$12. That's how much it costs to make a schoolgirl your sex slave.

Boko Haram leader Imam Abubakar Shekau, who frequently appears on YouTube to claim responsibility for attacks.

Two weeks ago, they were at school studying for a physics exam. Now, over 200 teenaged schoolgirls have been reportedly sold into sex slavery for just $12 at mass “weddings” across West Africa.

The girls were abducted in the middle of the night from their Nigerian boarding school on April 14, packed into lorries and spirited away to an unknown location deep in the nearby Sambisa forest on Nigeria’s border with Cameroon.

A lucky few escaped by jumping from the truck or running into the dense forest. But now, it’s reported the girls who remain missing — at least 180, although reported figures vary — have been forced to marry armed gunmen from the extremist Islamic terrorist group that abducted them.

Amina Shawok escaped the kidnapping by jumping from a truck.

Jihadist group Boko Haram, whose name means “Western education is forbidden” in the local Hausa language, wants to impose a stricter enforcement of Sharia law across Nigeria. 

While the group has not publicly taken credit for the mass abduction, its leader Abubakar Shekau has previously admitted to small kidnapping attacks and chillingly announced last year that those abducted by the group would begin a new life as “servants”.

Girls previously kidnapped by the group have later been found, working on remote farms, pregnant or with babies as a result of rape.

Halite Aliyu of the Borno-Yobe People’s Forum told the Associated Press on Wednesday that the reports about the kidnapped schoolgirls’ “mass weddings” had come from villagers in the Sambisa Forest.

“The latest reports are that they have been taken across the borders, some to Cameroon and Chad,” Aliyu said. 

Community elder Pogu Bitrus told the BBC that some of the kidnapped girls “have been married off to insurgents”. “(It’s) a medieval kind of slavery. You go and capture women and then sell them off,” Bitrus said.

One of the girls who escaped the kidnapping, Amina Shawok, has explained that some of the militants had lured the girls onto lorries by posing as soldiers.

nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped sold
The inside of the schoolhouse from which the girls were kidnapped earlier this month. (Photo via the BBC.)

Ms Shawok told CNN: “We thought they were soldiers and they asked us to board a vehicle which was heading towards Damboa.”

“My friends and I jumped from the vehicle and ran back home because we realised they don’t look innocent to us,” she said.

Political tensions and lack of infrastructure in the area have made it difficult for authorities to find the girls, and the search was reportedly temporarily suspended because of a lack of police back-up.

Enoch Mark, whose daughter and two nieces were among the students abducted, told the ABC he felt the government needed to escalate the search.

“May God curse every one of those who has failed to free our girls,” he said.

He added that the government was “showing indifference to (a) monumental disaster”.

Shettima Haruna, whose daughter is also missing, told The Telegraph that governmental inaction had prompted him to search for the girls himself in the Sambisa forest, a known hideout of Boko Haram militants.

“We formed a search party, riding on motorcycles into the forest, searching several places until a man gave us information that he saw our girls with the abductors ahead,” Mr Haruna said. “The man actually told us that our children were not far away. But he warned that the abductors were well armed and kill at will, so we decided to save our lives and returned.”

Parents of the missing schoolgirls have taken to the streets in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, to protest government inaction.

The military’s failure to the teenagers prompted Nigerian protesters to march on the country’s parliament on Wednesday. The march, dubbed “A Million Woman March”, attracted several hundred women and men with placards reading “Find Our Daughters”.

For almost a year, the provinces of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa have been under a state of emergency due to relentless assaults blamed on Boko Haram. Violence by the group, which was declared a terrorist group by the US in 2013, killed 1,500 in the first three months of 2014 alone, compared with an estimated 3,600 between 2010 and 2013.

Nigeria’s military, which has also been accused of human rights abuses, including extra-judicial killings, has faced heavy criticism over its failure to curb the Islamist uprising.

You can sign the petititon to demand action on this issue — by the Nigerian government, UNICEF and the UN Women’s agency — right here.

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