Boko Haram Kidnappings and the Victims’ Mental Health

By Michele Goodwin

In mid-April, Boko Haram, an extremist organization operating in the northern region of Nigeria, kidnapped nearly 300 girls from their boarding school in Borno.  Kidnappers threatened thatNigeria_Boko_Haram_Kidnapping the girls would be sold to sex trafficking rings in neighboring countries, causing international alarm.   In the weeks since that mass kidnapping, world leaders have issued collective demands for the return of the girls–and placed pressure on Nigeria’s president, Goodluck Jonathan to take aggressive action to achieve the girls’ return.  Some pundits believe hope may be around the corner, because in the last two days, Boko Haram leaders claimed that they will release some of the girls to safe houses.  Yet, it remains unclear whether this will happen.

While the world-community eagerly hopes for the girls’ return,  the kidnappings and the slow response by the Nigerian government seems emblematic of a broader problem regarding the treatment and low status of girls in Nigeria and neighboring countries such as Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Indeed, the Congo is considered to be the “rape capital” of the world.

Importantly, if the girls’ release materializes, what actions will the government take to ease their return? How will the government help return them to their villages and school? By this, we should ask questions about what type of mental and physical health services will be provided?  What type of preparation will be offered to their families?  These questions should be at the forefront of Nigeria’s strategy.

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About Michele Goodwin

Professor Goodwin is a prolific author, public commentator, and social policy advocate. She serves on the executive board of the ACLU and is an elected member of the American Law Institute, and a Fellow of the American Bar Foundation. Her reviews and commentaries appear in Forbes,, the New York Times, L.A. Times, Washington Post, Chicago Sun Times, and numerous other periodicals. She is published in the Yale Law Journal, Harvard Law Review, Georgetown Law Journal, Northwestern Law Review and other law journals.