The educational prospects for children in Nigeria, where one-third of primary-age children already do not go to school, are at stake.

With Nigeria's economy in a crisis, kidnapping has become a growth industry, according to interviews with security analysts and a recent report on the economics of abductions. 

The victims are not just the rich, powerful or famous, but also the poor - and increasingly school children who are rounded up en masse.

It seemed an aberration. But since December, mass kidnappings at boarding schools in northwest Nigeria have been happening more frequently - at least one in every three weeks. 

Just one Friday last month, more than 300 school girls were taken from the school in the state of Zamfara. The week before, more than 40 children and adult were abducted from a boarding school in the state of Niger.

The perpetrators are often gangs of bandits, who are taking advantage of a dearth of effective policing and the easy availability of guns.

Each kidnapping seems to inspire another. The media coverage that erupts after every incident puts pressure on the government to win the  release of the hostages.

Governors in the north have come under heavy criticism for being unable to protect their citizens. But when hostages are liberated, the government sometimes capitalizes on the publicity. And corrupt government officials have also been accused of skimming portions of the ransom money, according to Nigerian analysts and media reports.

''When you have such large-scale abduction of children, especially defenseless, harmless children, the ransom value will be high because of the international pressure to rescue them,'' said Confidence McHarry, a security analyst who worked on one Intelligence report.

With the kidnappings happening so frequently in northern Nigeria, ''for some students, that's the end of their academic life,'' said Muhammed Gulma, a retired army major and security expert.

''No parent would want to endanger his or her child's life simply because of education.'' That indeed, is more than sad. It's tragic. The abduction industry is booming, and schools are the hunting grounds.

The World Students Society thanks authors Ruth Maclean.


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