Nigerian abductions

In the five years of its insurgency in Nigeria's northeastern provinces Islamist group Boko Haram has been involved in dozens of massacres of civilians – some 10,000 deaths are linked to the group's campaign over the decade, 100 in Abuja bombings in the last month alone. The organisation, allegedly linked to al Qaeda, has demonstrated a degree of viciousness against Christians and Muslims alike that has deeply traumatised Nigeria, but its abduction on April 14th of over 300 schoolgirls from a boarding school in a remote northeastern town, Chibok, has now provoked massive international anger .

About 50 of the girls aged between 15 and 18 escaped, but some 276 are still said to be in Boko Haram hands – eight more taken yesterday – in camps deep in the bush, and the group has now threatened to sell the “slaves” into marriage. Attempts by parents and Nigerian troops to pursue the abductors have proved futile, and there have been protests in every major city at the incompetence of the authorities whose forces are also widely believed to have been heavily infiltrated by Boko Haram. Some 275,000 have signed a petition posted on demanding the state do more .

Government troops have also been rightly criticised for human rights breaches in their heavy-handed, counterproductive response to the insurgents. The government, which has admitted that it needs help to get the girls back should urgently explore international offers.

Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani 16-year-old from the Swat Valley who was shot in the face by a Taliban member on her school bus in October 2012, has also spoken up for the kidnapped girls. "These abducted schoolgirls are my sisters," she emailed to a US journalist from Britain where she is recuperating from her injuries. "And I call on the international community and the government of Nigeria to take action and save my sisters."

Boko Haram, whose name roughly translates as "Western education is forbidden", and which aims to establish a "pure" Islamic state ruled by sharia law, has called western schooling "a plot against Islam". It has waged a campaign against girls' education in the northeast that echoes the brutal campaigns of the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan and has caused many schools to close in recent months. Chibok's had reopened so that the girls could take their final exams.

The Boko Haram campaign, however, is just the tip of the iceberg of a far more extensive problem. UN estimates put at 65 million the number of girls around the world who are kept from school – 31 million of primary school age, and 34 million of lower secondary school. Ten million of those, because they were married off as children. Recent estimates predict that only 62 out of 168 countries will achieve gender parity in secondary education by 2015.