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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 20 August 2018

Differing response is a global travesty

The differing response to the missing flight MH370 and abducted Nigerian schoolgirls demonstrates a global failure to mobilise.

When more than 200 people suddenly disappear, how does the world respond? The events of this year have shown that it depends entirely on who they are. If they are the 239 passengers and crew of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370, no effort has been spared to solve the mystery, even though all are now accepted to have died.

But if they are the 223 Nigerian schoolgirls abducted by the anti-education militants of Boko Haram in mid-April – and all presumed to still be alive – the effort put into finding them, either by the government of Nigeria, now Africa’s biggest economy, or by the world community, can only be described as shamefully deficient.

Instead of rolling news coverage and an international collaboration, the girls’ families have resorted to venturing into the forests of north-east Nigeria themselves in a bid to find them or have had to pay people to search on their behalf.

All the evidence suggests these girls’ ordeal is continuing. Reports from the region maintain they have been forced to marry their abductors or sold as child brides for as little as $12 (Dh44) in neighbouring Chad and Cameroon. Human rights activists in Africa have decried this as an atrocity against humanity, calling the supposed marriages a form of sexual slavery.

One obvious comparison is to the case of Malala Yousafzai, the schoolgirl from Pakistan who was shot in the head by Taliban militants simply because she sought an education. Malala’s story was inspirational, but when 230 girls whose only offence is also to have sought an education – they were abducted while taking an exam – the world has failed to mobilise.

Another comparison is to the sinking of the South Korean ferry. The loss of around 300 lives prompted the resignation of Chung Hong-won, South Korea’s prime minister, who took “all responsibility” for the ship’s sinking. In Nigeria, president Goodluck Jonathan has remained focused on hosting the World Economic Forum in Abuja this week and stayed mostly silent on the issue of the abducted schoolgirls.

What lesson ought to emerge from this disparity of response? That global public opinion has a role to play, by compelling governments to act if they are seen to be failing their own citizens.

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