A Yazidi girl displaced by ISIS militants is photographed in northern Iraq on Dec. 10, 2014.
Hundreds of Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped by terrorist group Boko Haram are still missing. Despite thousands of concerned tweets under a widespread #BringBackOurGirls hashtag, experts still can't say for sure if they'll ever be rescued.
Obiageli Ezekwesili, the cofounder of the Bring Back Our Girls organization, is still searching for answers.
"The girls that you tweeted about ... are not yet back," she told the audience at the sixth annual Women in the World Summit in New York on April 23. "It is not time to move on."
The question on everyone's mind was the same — where are the missing girls? It's a simple question with a complex answer. Some have managed to escape, while most were sold and married off to soldiers, Okeowo says.
Considering the way the mass kidnapping shocked the world, why hasn't the Nigerian government gone into overdrive to bring them back? Goodluck Jonathan, the president at the time, wasted precious weeks ignoring the kidnappings and delaying aid from countries like Britain, the U.S., France and China, Ezekwesili says. He wanted the furor around the kidnappings to die down, so as not to hurt his presidential campaign, Ezekwesili adds.
"We lost such valuable time," she tells the audience.
Corruption in the Nigerian government has also completely destroyed rescue efforts, Okeowo says. The military has a budget of nearly $6 billion, and any aid money donated to the military just "disappeared," she says.
"Corruption is the system," Prendergast says. "These are officials who hijacked the wealth of the state."
The Yazidi girlsLater that day at the Women in the World Summit, Iraqi parliament member Vian Dakheel Saeed shared her story about looking for Yazidi girls stolen by ISIS. She was joined in her panel by her sister, Dr. Delan Dakheel Saeed, Alissa Johannsen Rubin, the Paris bureau chief of The New York Times and Ambassador Melanne Verveer of the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security. The talk was moderated by ABC News correspondent Deborah Roberts.
As of last November, it's estimated the terror group has kidnapped more than 5,000 Yazidis, most of them women and girls. Saeed is sure the majority of those women have been sold into sex slavery. It's been confirmed by a recent Human Rights Watch report that kidnapped girls are subject to "systematic rape and sexual violence."
Yazidis are one of the oldest religious minorities in Iraq. In part because of the religious difference, they were immediately a target for ISIS — but the government was too late to protect them.
“We should have been more alert to how vulnerable they were,” Rubin says.
Vian, because of her outspokenness against ISIS, is now a target of the terrorist group. She couldn't give less of a damn, however, visiting refugee camps and spreading concern about the girls who are being raped and sold into slavery.
"My life is nothing," she says.
Like some of the girls who escaped Boko Haram, many Yazidi girls who escape from ISIS bring back gruesome stories of rape and murder. Dr. Delan recounts the story of one 15-year-old girl who had been sold 20 times. The last time was only for $1. The men would rape her, get bored with her, then sell her off time and time again.
Dr. Delan adopted the young girl, who dreams of being a pediatrician. The girl's mother is currently missing, also kidnapped and sold by ISIS.
“We have a deal," Dr. Delan explained tearily. "She’ll keep calling me mom until her mom comes back, and I’ll keep taking care of her.”
Vian also shared a story about a 9-year-old girl, whose name she did not reveal. ISIS fighters killed her father right before her very eyes, then kidnapped her and her mother. They were put in a slave house with other kidnapped women. Each morning, an ISIS member would arrive, picking a girl to rape. One day, an older man ("around 50 or 60 years old") tried to take the 9-year-old girl, so her mother fought back.
The ISIS fighters showed no mercy — they shot the mother in the head and raped the girl anyway. However, the girl's body was too frail to survive the sexual assault. She bled to death shortly afterward. This brutality is not just committed for pleasure, Ambassador Verveer says. It's a war tactic, though it isn't always viewed as such.The ISIS fighters showed no mercy — they shot the mother in the head and raped the girl
“Somehow, sexual violence is still viewed as normal or expected,” she says.
It's also a financial ploy. Some of these kidnapped women and children are sold back to their families, but at exorbitant prices. Vian recalls a penniless man who begged her for $2,000 so he could buy his 11-year-old daughter back. The rest of his family had already been killed.
At this point, many parts of western and northern Iraq are under ISIS control. The war for ownership rages on.
Where do we go from here?Like Vian, Obiageli Ezekwesili has hope the girls will be found. Nigeria's new president-elect, Muhammadu Buhari appears determined to try, yet he ishesitant to say for sure that the girls will be found.
Still, Nigerians seem to have faith in him, Alexis Okeowo says. Buhari is working with the communities to build intelligence, which "is a model that can work," Prendergast says.
Both Ezekwesili and Vian stress the importance of outside intervention and raising awareness. That in turn puts pressure on the Nigerian and Iraqi government to put extra effort into stopping these kidnappings.
It also puts pressure on international governments to put a spotlight once more on these still missing children.
"It's an unfinished business for the world," Ezekwesili says. "We need now to have a new momentum."