As a Nigerian-born daughter of a Borno man, I remember my father telling me that when I was about seven or eight years old, several of his friends came to him asking for my hand in marriage. My father refused, saying he wanted me to pursue an education.
This story has played over and over again in my mind in the last few weeks, since Boko Haram kidnapped 276 Nigerian girls, and then eleven more. They were taken from boarding schools, transported across borders and sold to men for $12 apiece. Their only crime was pursuing a Western education. It is ironic to note that the kidnappers, to stop the "Western education" of the girls used instruments and weapons created, manufactured, and sold by the Western world.
Human trafficking in summary means taking (by force, deception, or other means) another person and exploiting them. Exploitation includes prostitution, other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labor or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, the removal of organs, and other heinous violations of human rights. The kidnapping, transporting, and selling of some of these girls is, in its truest form, human trafficking.
These painful and atrocious acts, however made me realize that there is another form of human trafficking that perhaps has neither been unveiled nor fully considered. If human trafficking is the obtaining of a person for labor, through the use of coercion or deception, for the purposes of exploitation, then it means that any vulnerable human being, deceived into performing acts against their fellow human beings, with the promise of a chance to pursue their happiness, is indeed the victim of human trafficking. The victims are not just the kidnapped, but the kidnappers as well.
Historically, the Boko Haram are orphaned, uneducated, poor street children. In Nigeria 62.5 % of the population, approximately 111 million people are 24 years old or younger. The kidnapped and the kidnappers both fall into this age bracket. There is a paucity of opportunities for economic stability and progress, making most youth feel doomed to servitude while groveling for change. The kidnappers who performed this inconceivable act are par excellence victims of trafficking. No greater risk to life exists than not being able to live it to its fullest, while pursuing it to its full potential. There is no instrument on earth as powerful as the human mind. It has the power to create, to unlock the secrets of the universe, to heal, to make change. This same human mind, as we know it, also has the power to control, to deceive, and to destroy.
Indifference by the kidnappers of the emotional and physical consequences of these kidnappings has catastrophic implications. The effects of depression and trauma on these girls' work years, the destruction of relationships of these girls with the world, and the threat of losing their contributions to the world at large may be life-long.
I am not a Muslim, but I know that in true Islam, women are revered. Khadijah bint Khuwaylid was the first wife of the prophet Muhammad. Also known as Ameerat-Quraysh, she inherited the trading business from her relatives and father, who was a successful merchant of his time. As an independent trader, her caravan was equal to the length of all other traders. Khadijah hired Muhammad as an agent and eventually married him because of his honesty and dedication to her trade. She was the first convert and financial contributor of Muhammad's to the Islamic faith when Muhammad started proselytizing. She spent her wealth in supporting Muhammad's work, and the acceptance of Muhammad and his faith was due to Khadijah's contributions. Mohammed categorized Khadija as one of his four best choices of women, which included Miriam, the sister of Moses, Mary, the mother of Jesus, and his beloved daughter, Fatima, the daughter of Khadijah. Their marriage lasted 25 years when Khadija died at the age of 65 years, a true devotee of Islam. In the Qur'an (4:19) Muhammad himself forbade "the inheritance of women against their will." In true Islam, women are loved, honored, and protected for pursuing happiness.
I cannot help but wonder what would have been my fate or that of my daughters on April 15th, 2014, had my father married me off as a child, instead of allowing me to pursue an education. I also cannot help but wonder what the fate of Muhammad's proselytizing would have been, had Khadijah not been allowed to pursue her work as a trader.
This is not the first time something like this has happened, and it will not be the last. But at least we have seen an international outcry against this horrific act.
Human trafficking is real. It exists. It is unforgivable. It is a crime both against the girls themselves, the human mind, and the progress of mankind.
We are strong, and we stand against human trafficking. In all its horrid forms.