Parents of some of the Chibok schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram militants in northeast Nigeria three years ago hailed on Thursday their planned return to school in September, but said the families should be involved in the “healing process”.
Twenty-four of some 220 girls abducted from their school in the town of Chibok – including 21 released by the jihadists in October and three who escaped or were rescued – will resume their education, the president’s spokesman said.
On Saturday, 82 more of the girls kidnapped in April 2014 were released in exchange for members of the Islamist group that has killed 15,000 people since 2009 in an insurgency aimed at creating an Islamic caliphate in the northeast.
The 24 girls who left captivity last year have been staying in a secret location in the capital Abuja for assessment, rehabilitation and debriefing by the Nigerian government.
“It is better to send them to school,” said Goni Mutar, father of Asabe Goni, one of the girls released in October.
“The president made a promise he will educate them,” he said, adding that parents of the girls were worried about having to pay for their schooling if it was not covered by the state.
The abduction sparked global outrage and a campaign #bringbackourgirls supported by then-United States First Lady Michelle Obama and a list of celebrities, but there was no sign of the girls for two years until one was found in a forest last May.
Presidency spokesman Garba Shehu said, however, the 82 Chibok girls freed on Saturday would not return to school in September since they were undergoing medical and psychological treatment.
Psychologist Somiari Demm, who counselled former Boko Haram captives sponsored to go to the United States to study, said the girls’ families must play a big part in their “healing process”.
“It’s important to remember these young women are not prisoners, they are survivors who we should be aiming to make thrivers,” Demm said.
The government should use the Chibok girls as an example of how to advocate for and advance mental health, education for girls and other women’s rights issues in Nigeria, Demm said.
Activists and parents of the girls say they have been frustrated by a lack of contact and clarity over their future.
While the group of 21 girls freed in October were able to see their families in Chibok over Christmas, they were not allowed to return to their family homes, instead having to stay in a state safe house under armed escort, relatives said.
“Parents’ involvement is crucial,” said Aisha Muhammed-Oyebode, a leader of the Bring Back Our Girls (BBOG) campaign and head of the Murtala Muhammad Foundation, a non-profit organisation supporting the parents of the abducted girls.
“We have to redefine normal for the girls again,” she said.
The United Nations children’s agency Unicef said it supported the provision of education for the released girls who wanted to return to school.
“As with all children who have suffered the trauma of being held by the insurgents, the need for psychosocial support is likely to be long term and will need to be assessed on an individual basis,” said Unicef spokeswoman Doune Porter.
Mediator and lawyer Zannah Mustapha said some of the abducted girls refused to be freed last weekend, raising concerns they have been radicalised, and may feel afraid, ashamed or even too powerful to return to their old lives.