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U.S. needs to help effort to bring back kidnapped girls

By Amy Klobuchar
May 9, 2014 -- Updated 2334 GMT (0734 HKT)
Mothers of the missing Nigerian schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram want world powers to help rescue the hostages.
Mothers of the missing Nigerian schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram want world powers to help rescue the hostages.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Sen. Amy Klobuchar argues that the U.S. must help lead the effort to rescue the kidnapped Nigerian girls
  • More than 200 girls were abducted earlier this month, many have reportedly been sold
  • The militant group Boko Haram has claimed responsibility

Editor's note: Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, has been in office since 2007. You can follow her on Twitter @amyklobuchar. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- Three weeks ago, 276 girls awoke to a nightmare.

On the night of April 14, a gang of heavily armed militants attacked their dormitory at the Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok, a town in Nigeria's Borno state. They shot the guards, loaded the girls into trucks and drove them away into the forest.

It has been reported that the girls are being married off or even sold for as little as $12 to be wives to Boko Haram militants.

Since then, there has been disturbingly little action to find these girls. Local police say that around 53 of the girls have escaped, but that still leaves at least 223 held hostage in the hands of Boko Haram. That's almost as many people as were aboard Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 -- a horrible tragedy that has been the subject of intense media coverage and a massive international search.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar
Sen. Amy Klobuchar

In Nigeria, no one seems to know where these girls are, and until this past weekend, no one seemed inclined to do much about it. The most determined pursuit of the kidnappers had come not from the Nigerian military but from the families of the abducted girls. Some of the family members, armed only with bows and arrows to fight terrorists armed with assault rifles, rode into the forest on motorcycles to try to find their girls.

Fortunately, after this past week, the world is finally paying attention. With the families reaching out through social media, using the Twitter hashtag '#BringBackOurGirls,' protests have spread across the world calling for the Nigerian government to take stronger action and for the international community to help.

The United States should help lead this international effort, and we have to take some immediate actions to help marshal a global response to this heinous crime.

First, the United States should seek a resolution from the U.N. Security Council condemning this attack. It should also call for member countries to extend all appropriate assistance to Nigeria and neighboring countries to help locate the victims of Boko Haram's abductions and bring them home. I've joined with 20 women senators to call on the U.N. to designate Boko Haram as a terrorist group -- as the United States has already done -- which would trigger additional international sanctions on the group.

Second, we should move as quickly as we can to provide intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets to contribute to the search for the missing girls. The countries of the region have limited resources, and American support with aerial and satellite surveillance, similar to what we have provided to the hunt for Joseph Kony and his so-called Lord's Resistance Army in central Africa, could make a significant difference in their ability to liberate Boko Haram hostages. I'm encouraged by the administration's announcement that a team from the military, the FBI and other agencies is traveling to Nigeria to advise and assist the government with intelligence, hostage negotiations and other counterterrorism expertise.

Nnaji: Won't stop until girls are back
Report: Nigerian forces warned of attack
Escaped girls describe kidnapping

Finally, we must work to strengthen the capabilities of local authorities in Nigeria and other countries in the region to protect children, particularly girls, and combat human trafficking through civilian law enforcement.

Our current security sector assistance programs for these countries remain weighted towards their armed forces rather than building the capacity of civilian law enforcement to protect citizens where they live. We should use the expertise of the Department of State, Department of Justice, and U.S. Agency for International Development to help design and implement robust programs that bolster anti-trafficking efforts in these countries over the long term.

Make no mistake, how we respond to the abduction of the girls of Nigeria will be a moral test of our nation's commitment to the fight against modern-day slavery. Human trafficking is a stain on the conscience of the world and is now the world's third-largest criminal enterprise, behind only drug- and gun-trafficking.

I recently led a delegation to Mexico to talk about how we can coordinate with other countries to fight sex trafficking around the world. The U.S. can work with local officials to help them crack down on traffickers and support victims.

But this isn't only a problem in countries half a world away -- it's happening in our own backyards. In fact, 83% of the victims in the United States are U.S. citizens. I've introduced a bipartisan bill with Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, to fight sex trafficking in America by making sure minors sold for sex aren't prosecuted as criminals but are instead treated as victims. The bill also allows victims of sex trafficking to participate in the Job Corps program to help them get back on their feet, and would create a National Strategy to Combat Human Trafficking to encourage cooperation among all the federal, state, and local agencies that work on this problem.

We cannot close our eyes to these horrific acts in our own country and across the globe, including the clear evidence of barbarity unfolding before us in Nigeria. Our action or inaction will be felt not only by those schoolgirls being held captive and their families waiting in agony, but by victims and perpetrators of trafficking around the world.

Now is the time to act.

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