It says something about a culture that prides itself on humanitarian concern that this culture could care so much about 200 kidnapped girls, but not bat an eye over 10,000 kidnapped boys.
The Wall Street Journal published an article detailing the extent of Boko Haram’s cruelty against boys. I previously wrote about how the terrorist group spent the better part of 2013 murdering hundreds of men and boys in Nigeria.These acts made some international news, but it was only when Boko Haram kidnapped 197 girls that the world took major notice of the group.
The mothers of some of the girls created the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls, which went viral. First Lady Michelle Obama famously tweeted a picture of herself holding a sign with the hashtag written on it. Yet during that time Boko Haram continued to murder scores of men and boys. Shortly before and after kidnapping the girls, the group when on a killing spree, the latter of which resulted in about 400 men and boys, including infants, being slaughtered.
This received limited news coverage, yet nowhere near the amount of social media attention that the kidnapping of 200 girls received. What does our apathy buy us? What comes of this level of utter indifference to boys’ suffering? This:
In a forest of thorn trees somewhere far outside this city, the Boko Haram insurgency ran a boot camp for about 100 boys. Children as young as 5 years old learned to handle assault rifles and march through the woods in flip-flops. Their teacher was only 15.
“I was terrified if I didn’t do it, they would kill me,” said Idriss, the teenage instructor, in an interview. He said he was kidnapped by the militants in 2014 but has since escaped.
Interviews with 16 young Nigerians who escaped from Boko Haram captivity and with other witnesses, soldiers, researchers, officials and diplomats in Nigeria and Cameroon provide a picture of the harrowing life endured by the children who wage jihad. The Wall Street Journal isn’t publishing their surnames.
Witnesses said the boys were trained and sent into battle, at times unarmed and often numbed with opiates. Many of the boys were beaten and some died of starvation or thirst, these people said. Their individual accounts couldn’t be independently verified but are consistent with information gathered by researchers and military officials, both in terms of timing and specific details.
“They told us, ‘It’s all right for you to kill and slaughter even your parents,’ ” recalled Samiyu, a former captive who said he witnessed a beheading on the first day of his 11 months with Boko Haram. He said other boys helped hold down the victim. “They said, ‘This is what you have to do to get to heaven.’ ”
In many camps, boys hardly old enough to hold guns were taught how to shoot. Thirteen-year-old Modu said that in his former camp, they practiced firing at planks of wood. Elsewhere, boys shot cows or goats. In Rachel’s camp, older militants took young boys on trips into the countryside to rob herdsmen of their cattle. For even minor infractions, militants beat boys nearly unconscious, or denied them food and sleep for days, former captives say.
While the world rallied around 200 kidnapped girls, Boko Haram went from village to village kidnapping thousands boys. They take the boys and torture them, indoctrinate them, and then turn them loose. The boys are often led by older boys, usually no older than 15. The boys commit horrendous acts, from assault to murder to rape, and are subject to that violence themselves. They often have no way out, and the risk of getting caught is high.
One would think that as a culture that prides itself on humanitarianism that the West would rail against these acts and do everything in our power to save and protect these boys. Instead, we ignore it, making the situation much worse. Not only will this allow thousands of boys to be brutalized, but it will also create more the very terrorists we wish remove from the world. Many of these boys are very young, and the things they are taught are etched in their minds through violence. It will take a great deal to dismantle that thinking. Turning a blind eye to this cruelty only results in more cruelty.
It also creates a new problem as many people do not want the boys who escape anywhere near them. As one girl stated in the article:
One 13-year-old girl said she was raped by a boy around her own age. He left her pregnant, she said. “We want the government to kill them all, including the children, so we don’t have a resurgence of this,” she said, referring to the Boko Haram fighters.
There is no easy fix to this situation. We cannot threaten Boko Haram with war crimes as the group clearly does not care. However, we also cannot continue to ignore the situation simply because the victims are male. That is essentially the reason this was and continues to be largely ignored. The same thing happened with the rampant child rape in Afghanistan. The victims are boys, so the world does nothing even as boys are raped on Western military bases.
Where is our outrage? Where is our demand for justice for these boys? Why it is seemingly acceptable for boys to be tortured to this degree, to have their lives reduced to cannon fodder, and yet it takes three years for anyone to go in-depth into what these boys experience? How is it that we can be this callous towards boys, yet rouse all our incredulity when someone calls a girl ‘bossy’?
To this point, the WSJ article received less coverage than a video Boko Haram released stating that some of the girls they previously kidnapped were killed during a US raid.
The irony writes itself. When the girls were kidnapped, I and many others noted that hundreds of boys had been killed and yet there was no hashtag campaign about them. The response, largely from progressives, was that it was bad the boys were killed, but they were already dead and the girls were still alive. Now, there are thousands of kidnapped boys we know of, yet the majority of the media coverage is on the unspecified number of injured and dead girls (who could have been injured and killed by Boko Haram).
Nothing better illustrates how little we care about boys this situation. When the boys are dead we do not care, and when they are alive we do not care.