Will the world act to help Nigeria's missing schoolgirls?

It has taken almost three weeks for the outrage over Nigeria's abducted schoolgirls to reach Western capitals. But the video by the rebel group Boko Haram claiming credit may not be something anyone can turn their backs on anymore.

It's taken almost three weeks for the outrage to reach Western capitals

If you happened to watch the Boko Haram video claiming responsibility for the abduction of Nigeria's more than 200 schoolgirls, you too have become witness to what could ultimately be seen as an act of self-defeat.

You would also be one of millions who have now watched the extremist Islamist group's shocking update on the girls' fate.

Note the words in the video. There is no doubt the speaker, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau, is very aware that this is his moment of fame, and that his group's infinitely cruel act on April 14 has riveted many around the world, perhaps just as it had hoped.

"Just because I took some little girls in Western education, everybody is making noise," he says mockingly, with a slight giggle, flanked on each side by a masked gunman.

"Let me tell you, I took the girls. Girls go and get married. We are against Western education.

"I repeat I took the girls, and I will sell them off. There is a market for selling girls."

There most certainly is.

It is so routine, in fact, that before this case came to light, it barely made headlines.

It is the same with child marriage. It all goes on with near impunity in Nigeria and in many other places, too, save for those few dedicated organizations that just as routinely fight valiantly to end such practices, to no avail.

What's different about this case is that child slavery, and very possibly forced child marriage, has happened en masse. Wholesale.

In the video, Shekau claims God commanded him to sell the girls.

Protesters in Lagos, Nigeria, with well made signs aimed at Western audiences, demand the release of the schoolgirls abducted by the Islamist group Boko Haram on April 14. (Reuters)

The initial act of abducting nearly 300 school girls (some escaped) and callously loading them onto trucks and carting them off prompted a slow rumble of outrage from millions around the world.

Boko Haram's outrageous announcement Sunday has now, finally, ignited it.

The reaction to this could spell the long-awaited end of an organization that has, without the rest of the world taking much notice, long haunted Nigeria with bombings and attacks on schools in the name of fighting Western influence and education, and building an Islamic state.

But since Nigeria has had a hard time breaking the Boko Haram organization, that also depends on how — and whether — the rest of the world decides to act.

A slow fuse

It has now taken three full weeks for the world's politicians to acknowledge the depth of the fury of ordinary people — the growing demand in Nigeria and far beyond that someone do something to bring these girls home.

Only yesterday we learned that U.S. President Barack Obama has been briefed "several times" on the matter. That Washington "stands ready" to help the Nigerian government, which until recently seems to have also failed to grasp the gravity of the incident and the extent of the anger on its own streets.

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan only addressed the abduction publicly for the first time on Sunday, acknowledging it was a painful time for his country — while admitting his forces had no idea where the girls were.

"We promise that anywhere the girls are, we will surely get them out," he said. Though given the track record so far, that hardly inspires confidence.

Muslim women in Lagos, Nigeria, take part in a protest demanding the release of abducted secondary schoolgirls from the remote village of Chibok. (Reuters)

On Monday, Washington called the abduction an "outrage" and a "tragedy." On the weekend, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called it an "unconscionable crime."

Canada's John Baird weighed in with "absolutely repugnant." But what we are waiting to see is whether these countries are willing to go beyond words and lend their expertise in policing, search and rescue or intelligence to help find the girls.

President Jonathan, who earlier this year thumbed his nose at the West by promulgating one of the harshest anti-gay laws in the world, has now apparently broken down and asked the U.S., Britain, France and China for help, according to the latest reports.

More Malalas

There may, however, still be a reason to take heart. Because Boko Haram's moment of twisted fame comes in 2014, when much of the world sees girls' education as absolutely vital, as a norm and a necessity.

There are, no doubt, wide swaths of exceptions, but the vast majority of mothers and fathers, not just in the West, toil so that their sons and daughters are educated and prepared for the difficult world they will inherit. They too will bristle at Boko Haram's savagery.

Yes, this is a world in which some places turn a blind eye to child marriage and what is, in effect, a life of slavery. But perhaps thanks to Boko Haram and its brazen act, they might do so less easily now.

This video, don't forget, comes at a time when a single girl from Swat Valley in Pakistan, who nearly lost her life fighting for girls' education, is now a household name and an inspiration to millions.

Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan and his wife Patience arrive for a dinner with the French President and other dignitaries in Paris in December. The president's wife said this week she didn't believe the girls were abducted and that it was a plot to give her husband's government a bad name. (Reuters)

Imagine 300 new Malalas. And what that might mean for Boko Haram's prospects.

Realistically, there are many in Nigeria and beyond who might well agree with Boko Haram's video's anti-Western message.

But even among those with such tendencies, there is likely very little stomach for the idea of snatching young girls and selling them on the open market.

Despite what the rebel leader claims, no God would ever support that. And it is just that which could very well spell the end of Boko Haram and its ignorance.


Nahlah Ayed

Host of CBC Ideas

Nahlah Ayed is the host of the nightly CBC Radio program Ideas. A veteran of foreign reportage, she's spent nearly a decade covering major world events from London, and another decade covering upheaval across the Middle East. Ayed was previously a parliamentary reporter for The Canadian Press.