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Tweets and Spit for Nigerian Girls


Finally, the human rights abomination of kidnapping Nigerian children is gaining media attention. Social media again is stepping in where governments and organizations have failed to inspire action. Twitter feeds for #NigerianSchoolgirls and #Bringbackourgirls (among others) have sparked petitions and action to treat the kidnappers as terrorists and demand (with force if necessary) the return of the children.

Using technology gives a huge boost to the global community to intimidate the criminals and mobilize opposition to Boko Haram. Meanwhile, the science at our Western fingertips for solving crimes is not yet a first thought among first-responders – DNA. We have the technology to use kinship DNA, to catalogue missing persons’ cases, and to bring the technology into the fields. In criminal cases, some of the issues of chain-of-custody and quality are going to need more time to fine-tune applications of RapidDNA. But in the field, where the cases are investigative not prosecutorial, DNA could be extremely valuable – if collected in an ethically sound manner to protect the victims’ families from misuse of their samples or profiles.

Some of the girls may turn up dead, some may be discovered years from now, and some may be discovered when they are smuggled into another country. If nearly 300 girls are missing today, that is 300 families that human rights advocates should collect DNA from those family members now, catalogue their relationships and contact information and store their profiles for future kinship matching. DNA could be valuable for prosecuting cases down the road; but more importantly – it could be valuable for the humanitarian identification of deceased individuals and reunification of families.