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PROVIDENCE—Hundreds gathered in front of the Rhode Island State House this past Friday evening to express their sadness at the nearly 300 schoolgirls who have been kidnapped in Nigeria. State representatives spoke alongside members of the Nigerian Community of Rhode Island (NCRI), urging for the safe release of the girls, as well as for the public to help put pressure on the U.S. government to take action.
According to national reports, approximately 276 girls, aged 16 to 18 were kidnapped on April 15 from their school in Chibok, a village some 80 miles northeast from Nigeria’s capital city, Lagos. The girls have been abducted by Boko Haram, an Islamic terrorist group which has reportedly announced this past week that it wants Islamic prisoners throughout the country to be released before letting the kidnapped girls go.
Many from Rhode Island’s Nigerian community arrived at the State House, singing “All we are saying, bring back our girls’ while walking with signs urging for the girls’ release. Lady Emilia, former president of the NCRI, shouted ‘No more Boko Haram’ and ‘We want our children back’.
“This is a very emotional thing to watch,” said Sandra Watmough of Glocester, who was urged to attend the rally by her husband. “We need to speak out not only for these girls, but all the women and children who experience this kind of horror throughout the country.”
Rep. Doreen Costa (Dist. 31-Exeter, North Kingstown), who recently had a House bill increasing penalties for the sex trafficking of minors passed unanimously, stressed to the crowd on Friday that kidnappings such as these in Nigeria can happen anywhere, and that is important for local communities to understand and speak out against such crimes.
“When I first read the story, I was horrified,” said Costa. “This could be anybody’s child, anywhere in the country, and [the Nigerian girls] are going to be trafficked and sold. This is frightening.”
“It doesn’t matter what party or religion you are with, we are just going to unify as a team,” she continued.
Other state officials who spoke on Friday included Congressman David Cicilline, Providence Mayor Angel Taveras and Rhode Island Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin.
“We are all here to demand the release of these young girls who have done nothing wrong, who went to school to learn,” said Cicilline. “We have to do everything we can to get the release of these young girls.”
“The attorney general’s office stands for justice, and we need justice for these girls,” said Kilmartin. “We need to start it in Rhode Island and spread it throughout this country, to let the world know that we are all the fathers and mothers of these girls, that we want our children back.”
Cicilline further announced that the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee passed a resolution condemning the kidnappings by Boko Haram, which translates approximately to ‘Western education is sinful’ in Arabic, and will urge the government to take more action. The rally itself was organized by the NCRI, along with the Rhode Island Young Professionals group and Take 5 with Reza Rites.
Mary Gwann of the Rhode Island Young Professionals said that the U.S. government should send troops into Nigeria to force the release of the girls, and that the public must contact their state and federal representatives to force action.
“We are trying to inspire everybody to take action, to call their congressional delegates, and let them know that action must continue to be taken to make sure these girls are safely reunited with their families as soon as possible,” said Gwann. “I have spoken to people throughout the world, including my own family in Nigeria, and they have said that they need help.”
“Sex trafficking, forced marriages are things that have been happening all over the world and for a really long time,” she added.
Gwann further pressed the public to sign the White House petition requesting that the Obama Administration work with the United Nations and the Nigerian government to help return the kidnapped girls safely home. The petition, which can be found at http://petitions.whitehouse.gov, had 26,600 signatures as of Monday, but will require 100,000 in total by May 25 in order to be processed.