In the next four months, 24 out of the 103 Chibok girls released from the captivity of Boko Haram will be returning to school. Those who will be heading back include the 21 girls freed last October and three others who reunited with their families after they escaped or were rescued.
“Government is preparing the girls to go back to school in September this year because they have lost so much academically,” said the senior special assistant to the president on media and publicity, Garba Shehu.
The real concern, however, is what lies ahead in terms of how such a traumatic experience may have affected the girls mentally and the ability of the government in collaboration with various organisations to provide a functional support structure as they gradually reintegrate into the society.
It is difficult to know how anyone, let alone children and young adults, react to such trauma and whether or not they are fully ready to interact with others as they return to their normal lives. But nonetheless, this latest move by the government is reasonable for two reasons.
One, the girls need to refresh their knowledge of what exists outside the walls of confinement; they need to go back to things that they loved and enjoyed. While they may have been undergoing medical and psychological treatment, a true test for whether or not this has been successful is to set them out into the world, literally. And school is a good start.
Secondly, in terms of academics, the girls have fallen behind the syllabus by three years within which time they would have advanced to the university/tertiary level while getting equipped with the adequate skills required for everyday life. Although it can never be too late to learn and adapt, wasting any more time in enrolling the girls back to school would have been futile.
Lastly, in all of this, Psychologist Somiari Demm, who counselled former Boko Haram captives sponsored to go to the United States to study, also made a case for the immense role of the girls’ families in their “healing process.”
“It’s important to remember that these young women are not prisoners, they are survivors who we should be aiming to make thrivers,” said Demm. The government should use the Chibok girls as an example of how to advocate for and advance mental health, education for girls and other women’s rights issues in Nigeria, he added.
Aisha Jummai Alhassan, the minister of women affairs was quoted in a tweet to have stated as follows: “The parents of the #Chibokgirls are free to visit them at any time. We will never prevent them from seeing their daughters.”
In April 2014, the armed terrorist group, Boko Haram, kidnapped around 276 schoolgirls from their school dormitories in Chibok, Nigeria. Last Sunday, Nigeria celebrated the release of 82 kidnapped Chibok girls in exchange for members of the jihadist group after being held captive for three years.
So far, there have been 57 escapees, 103 released, and three found. This leaves 113 girls in the captivity of Boko Haram.