How Do I Explain the Stolen Nigerian Girls to My 3rd Grade Daughter?

Photo: PHILIP OJISUA/AFP/Getty Images

“But why are they only taking girls?” my daughter asks me as she curls up on my bed in a tank top and shorts. We’d been out all day enjoying Mother’s Day in Brooklyn.

“They don’t want them to have an education.”

“Why only the girls?” She’s hung up on this detail of the story. She’s a fiercely motivated third grader at a progressive elementary school where she plays soccer and piano alongside her twin brother. She cannot imagine being denied something because she’s a girl. And sometimes, as a mother, I find myself hoping that she will never have to imagine it. The story of the Boko Haram kidnappings in Nigeria broke nearly a month ago, and since then I’ve been — guiltily — relieved to avoid discussing it with her. As news stories go, this one is too terrible to bear.

I want to shield her. But, curious as ever, she’s put me on the spot. I do my best to explain.

“They don’t believe that girls should learn about things like science and math and social studies,” I say. Is this the right kind of detail? Will connecting the girls’ world to hers help her understand the story, or just scare her?

“So they just took them from their school? No one stopped them?” It’s a reasonable question. Her voice seems more alarmed now; she sits up. I sit down behind her, pulling her long messy hair into a ponytail.

“The men who took them had guns. They came in the middle of the night. And no, no one stopped them. The people in the town were too afraid.” She thinks about that. I stay quiet.

“Where did they take them?”

“We don’t know. No one knows. But many people in the world are looking for them and they are alive.” I say this with confidence, although I do not believe enough people are looking for them.

“The men might have killed them?” She turns around to me, widens her eyes.

I want to protect her — but the irony, of course, is that Boko Haram also says they want to protect girls. Everybody wants to protect girls from knowledge, even me here in Brooklyn, fretting about how to shelter my daughter from the details of this nightmarish kidnapping, from the fact that there is a world where girls have no freedom.

“What will happen to them?”

“We’re not sure. Boko Haram said they would be married off to Muslim men.”


“Possibly sold or used to negotiate for the release of Boko Haram’s imprisoned members.”

Do I tell her that one of the girls who escaped by running said she would rather die than be taken? I do. I dole out the facts slowly. She listens.

“Don’t worry,” I say finally. “This won’t happen here.” With as much certainty as I can muster, I tell her that girls deserve to know everything.

‘But Why Are They Only Taking Girls?’