— Nearly four weeks after hundreds of teenage girls were kidnapped from their schoolhouse in northeast Nigeria, there are few verified details about who the girls are or where they might be.
Nigerians said the missing girls — believed to be hidden in the forest, held captive by Islamist militants who regard them as slaves — are the daughters of their country.
“We don’t need to have carried them in our wombs for those children to be called our own," a protester said. "They are our daughters and what we are saying is, 'Bring back our girls!'"
But who exactly are they? Authorities have said 276 are still missing but have not provided a list of names or other identifying details. For the most part, the girls' families have not released the names, either.
Ade Ogundeyin, who heads Proforce, a Nigerian security company, said one explanation for the confusion is possible social stigma: families assume the missing girls are being raped, and they do not want their daughters to be viewed as "dirty."
“People do not like coming out to mention their names — the names of a certain person that’s missing — because of the effect that it has on the family setup in Nigeria,” he said.
Another possibility is that in northeast Nigeria — deeply impoverished, poorly developed and devastated by the five-year-long Boko Haram insurgency — detailed school attendance records are not a priority.
This may be why local officials say they don’t know exactly how many girls were taken or how many are still missing.
“Do they even have the list of girls in that particular school? That’s a question you should even ask yourself. And yes, people showed up from different schools. Was that supposed to be? So there’s a bit of confusion there,” said Ogundeyin.
On May 4, the Northern States Christian and Elders Forum sent out a list of 180 missing girls, saying most of the victims are Christian. But that list only contributed to controversy, since no one knew the source of the names that were distributed.
Activists contend the girls should not be identified by religion, lest other groups lose interest in saving them.
Over the past five years, Boko Haram has killed thousands of people in attacks on schools, churches, mosques, marketplaces and many other targets. Hundreds of school children have been slaughtered, and 1,500 people have been killed this year alone.
In a video, Abubakar Shekau, the man who said he leads Boko Haram, claimed to be holding the girls as slaves to be sold into marriage.
The video does not include pictures or video of any girls.
Former French first ladies Carla Bruni-Sarkozy (left) and Valerie Trierweiler (right) stand with politicians and entertainment artists holding a banner that reads "Leaders, bring back our girls" during a demonstration near the Eiffel Tower in Paris, May 13, 2014.
Former French first lady Valerie Trierweiler stands near a placard that reads "Bring back our girls" during a demonstration to pressure government leaders to help search for the Nigerian schoolgirls, near the Eiffel Tower, Paris, May 13, 2014.
Nigerians take part in a protest, called by Malaga's Nigerian women Association, for the release of the abducted schoolgirls, at La Merced square in Malaga, southern Spain May 13, 2014.
Brig. Gen. Chris Olukolade, Nigeria's top military spokesman (left), Director General, National Orientation Agency, Mike Omeri (center) Frank Mba National police spokesman attend a press conference on the abducted school girls in Abuja, Nigeria, May 12, 2014.
Abubakar Shekau, leader of Boko Haram, speaks to the camera in a video released by the extremist militant group, May 12, 2014.
This video released by the extremist militant group, Boko Haram, shows the alleged missing girls abducted from the northeastern town of Chibok, May 12, 2014.
Demonstrators carry a banner with an image of Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau as they demand the release of the abducted schoolgirls, Lagos, Nigeria, May 12, 2014.
Protesters demonstrate against the kidnapping of the schoolgirls in Nigeria, outside the Nigerian Embassy, London May 9, 2014.
A sign is pinned to a tree during a demonstration against the kidnapping of schoolgirls in Nigeria, outside the Nigerian Embassy, in London, May 9, 2014.
People carry signs as they attend a protest demanding the release of the schoolgirls who were abducted from the remote village of Chibok, in Lagos, May 9, 2014.