The ‘Bring Back Our Girls’ campaign is unsurprisingly trending here. We are expressing our outrage on social media, sharing countless images that have gone viral and organising vigils in support of the international movement to ensure the safe return of the abducted Nigerian school girls. While this is commendable, we continue to be silent spectators when atrocities are committed against children in our own country.
To be clear, this incident in Nigeria is deserving of the strongest condemnation. These innocent school girls, between 16 and 18 years old, are being held hostage with total impunity by the militant group Boko Haram. As time passes, the future of these girls is chillingly uncertain.
Should we be concerned? Absolutely. The incident was horrendous and close to 200 young girls are now in grave danger. But the ‘hashtag’ community of local sympathisers who are outraged about the abductions and are praying for the safe return of the girls in Nigeria seem to be unaware of our girls right here at home who are imprisoned in mining communities, where they are being held as sex slaves. It would appear that they also missed the recent reports about the girls who fled the New Opportunity Corps (NOC) and are alleging abuse and mistreatment. Similarly, they appear tuned out from the ongoing press coverage of the horrific shooting of 15-year-old Alex Griffith, who was removed from his home and later shot in the mouth by a police rank, investigating a personal matter.
As reported in the Guyana Chronicle newspaper, the Progressive Youth Organisation – the youth arm of the ruling party – joined the solidarity movement and managed to organise its “mass-based countrywide membership in vigils and other activities to bring public awareness to the plight of these young girls and their suffering families.” I also saw a photograph of President Donald Ramotar holding up a placard featuring the slogan. I then went through a series of press reports on the NOC incident to see whether he had said anything on that. I could not find a single report which quoted him commenting on the allegations raised.
Solidarity is important in the Nigeria abduction case and we are allowed to feel strongly about it, no objections there. But when are we going to show the same level of concern for issues here? When are we going to extend our prayers and words of encouragement to the young women in our country who are wandering the streets because of neglect and abuse? The girls who are charged and sent to NOC to be rehabilitated but are subjected to further pain and as alleged, sexual and physical abuse.
The ‘Bring Back Our Girls’ slogan cannot be the only one on our lips at a time when new allegations have been made about NOC and four of our own girls are saying in media reports that the institution is an unsafe place for young women. These girls at the centre of this story represent an incredibly high number of youth in our country who are troubled and in need of quality care and support, which this institution is not providing.
As pointed out by activists who recently picketed the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sport over the fresh NOC allegations, reports of abuse have long plagued the institution. The young men and women detained at the institution regularly abscond and rebel, which also, as pointed out by activists, “hint at deep and systemic problems with the management of the NOC and the institution’s inability to effect meaningful and positive change in the lives of the troubled youth it is supposed to be caring for.”
This NOC case ought to, at the very least, be of interest to more than a handful of activists who are pressing daily for an independent investigation into the allegations but, more importantly, reforms at the institution.
Minister Frank Anthony continues to stress that his ministry received no report of abuse, but that does not mean it is not taking place. Also, since the recent stories have been published past staff members of the institution have given interviews to the press and many of those reports have been damning.
A former staffer, when asked for an opinion of the institution, said to me that the NOC is indeed in poor shape. The former staff member also admitted to being aware of allegations about sexual abuse and making reports to management based on the belief that they were true.
The thing is, the majority of us do not even seem to care. It would appear that our collective concern and mass solidarity are reserved for international movements.
Apparently, we find it hard to get behind local movements. The injustices and violations in our own country, such as the Colwyn Harding and Alex Griffith cases, the human trafficking reports from the Guyana Women Miners Organisation, and the NOC stories are nothing more than headlines to the majority.
Take the Alex Griffith case, for example. As disturbing as the details of this incident were, they were not enough to trigger widespread outrage and or propel us to stand in solidarity with Griffith and his mother outside of State House on Tuesday evening during a vigil organised by the Colwyn Harding Support Group.
At that vigil, attended by a small group of activists, the boy’s mother Marcel Griffith sat in the street—as he stood nearby—and pleaded for justice.
“I could have buried my son! To date not a single charge! Not a single visit from the President!” She spoke at length of being ignored by authorities, of being offered money to settle the case, and of being alone in her suffering. Many persons passed, watched her and moved on with a few occasionally asking, “What’s going on?”
What is it going to take before his case starts trending? I don’t know.
I did speak with a friend in Nigeria though to get her thoughts on the “Bring Back Our Girls” slogan and while she was happy the world is getting involved, she was more disappointed in her government’s response to the incident. She said too that people she lived among didn’t seem that outraged and in some instances, very interested, but suddenly started using the slogan.
I checked her social media profiles and not once did I see the hashtag #bringbackourgirls referenced. But I was inundated with the slogan when I browsed local profiles.
While we are praying for the safe return of the abducted school girls in Nigeria, let us also say a prayer for the NOC girls. Hopefully, the state will return them to their families without additional scars.
Have a question or comment? Connect with Iana Seales at about.me/iseales