Updated: Monday, May 12, 10:39 a.m. EST
For the nearly 300 girls in northern Nigeria kidnapped by Islamic extremists, going to school was a risk worth taking. They were set to become global leaders, teachers or lawyers in a region where only 4 percent of girls complete secondary schooling.
Now, the girls, who were abducted on April 14, are reportedly set to be sold into marriage to militants for $12. Governments, nonprofits and citizen activists are scrambling to help the students, some of whom have reportedly died from snake bites and contracted illnesses, the Associated Press reports.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry offered military personnel, law enforcement officials and other experts Tuesday to help find the girls, which Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has accepted, according to Agence France-Presse. The offering comes amid global outrage that governments aren't doing enough to help find the girls, as well as an announcement from the abductors.
The Islamist group Boko Haram, meaning "Western education is sinful," has said it is responsible for the mass kidnapping of the girls, who are both Christian and Muslim. In a video obtained by Agence France-Presse (AFP), militant leader Abubakar Shekau unleashes a rant about Western education and says the girls should be married instead of being educated.
"I abducted your girls. I will sell them in the market, by Allah," Shekau said, according to CNN's translation. "There is a market for selling humans. Allah says I should sell. He commands me to sell. I will sell women."
The U.N. has spoken out, urging Nigerian officials to take necessary measures to find the girls, and warning abductors that they could be arrested for selling them, Reuters reported.
"We warn the perpetrators that there is an absolute prohibition against slavery and sexual slavery in international law. These can under certain circumstances constitute crimes against humanity," U.N. human rights spokesman Rupert Colville said at a press briefing.
Parents of the girls are now pleading for global pressure on Nigeria to do more to rescue them, the New York Times reported.
"We are now asking for world power countries to intervene," a parent told the news outlet, stating that Nigerian government officials "are just saying lies."
Secretary of State John Kerry told the Times that there are efforts to sever Boko Haram's monetary flow and also to train Nigerian authorities.
"It’s a massive human trafficking moment and grotesque," he said.
Education nonprofits such as Girl Rising are holding online forums to educate people about the issue, and social media campaigns including #BringBackOurGirls are helping to organize rallies and publicizing ways for people to help.
Boko Haram is negotiating a ransom for the release of 276 girls still in captivity, some of whom have reportedly been taken across borders to Cameroon and Chad, the AP reported.
The fact that the girls have not been rescued is a "massive embarrassment to Nigeria's government and the military" amid its inability to stem a five-year rising Islamic tide, the AP noted. Some feel that President Jonathan, who is from the Christian south of Nigeria, is insensitive toward the people of the predominantly Muslim north. What's more, Jonathan's wife, Patience, reportedly expressed doubts there was any kidnapping.
On Sunday night, President Jonathan said his administration was doing everything possible to help rescue the girls.
Meantime, global leaders, nonprofits and social media users around the world are speaking out. Read below to see how people are raising awareness for the girls and what you can actually do about it.