Thank you, Mr. President. I would like to thank the leader for his superb leadership on tourism. Anyone that represents the state of Nevada understands how important tourism is to our states and to our country, and I think one of the things that the leader knows, it's not just about Las Vegas. It's also about places like the Mall of America in Minnesota or all of those great bed and breakfasts and fishing operations in the state of Maine or Arkansas or Missouri. Senator Blunt is the leader, the Republican head of this bill along with myself, and we now have 56 authors on the reauthorization of the Travel Promotion Act, Brand U.S.A., in addition to, of course, the immigration bill which would allow us to not just reauthorize the Travel Promotion Act but also the JOLT Act, which creates all kinds of new ways to add more jobs to America by speeding up the visa process, by creating some more visa waiver countries and other things. So we'll be talking more about that later, but today I’m here, Mr. President, on a very important matter.
I rise today to discuss the outrageous abduction of 276 school girls by the terrorist group Boko Haram in northeastern Nigeria. We have reports that these school girls, some as young as 15 years old, are being sold into forced marriages with militants. I know this sounds like something that might be in some kind of a late-night movie or a strange book, but, in fact, this really happened. This really happened this last month that these 276 school girls were abducted from their school by a terrorist group in Nigeria. And with Boko Haram's leader now appearing on video, vowing to -- quote -- sell them in the market, let's call this what it is -- one of the most brazen and shocking single incidents of human trafficking we've seen in recent memory.
As Secretary of State John Kerry said this weekend, it's not just an act of terrorism, it's a massive human trafficking moment, and it is grotesque. This heinous crime demands that we take action immediately to help bring these girls home to their families and bring these kidnappers to justice. This is a test of our own country's commitment to fight human trafficking and modern day slavery, and we must step up and help Nigeria with this challenge.
On the night of April 14, Mr. President, a gang of heavily armed militants attacked the dormitory of the Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok, a town in Nigeria’s Borno state. They shot the guards, loaded 276 girls into trucks and drove them away into the forest.
That was three weeks ago today, and since then, there has been disturbingly little action to find these girls and to get their captors. 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 is almost as many people, Mr. President, as were aboard Malaysian airlines flight 370. That was 239 passengers and crew. Which we all know about is a horrible tragedy and the subject of intense media coverage and a massive international search costing tens of millions of dollars. But I have a feeling that many people that are watching this right now or who are in this chamber probably haven't even heard about these girls in Nigeria.
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. That is the best the world could do so far, and that is shameful.
Now the situation is more desperate than ever. The girls are reportedly being married off or even sold for as little as $12 to be wives to Boko Haram militants. Just this morning, a video surfaced featuring a man claiming to be a Boko Haram leader, taunting Nigeria and the world with this shameless statement claiming responsibility for the attack. He said this -- "I abducted your girls. I will sell them in the market by Allah. There is a market for selling humans. Allah says I should sell. He commands me to sell. I will sell women. I sell women."
That Boko Haram would target these girls is actually not a surprise. The group's very name means, quote, western education is sinful, end quote, and it systematically targets schools and kidnaps and kills children, especially girls, who are guilty of nothing more than seeking a better life for themselves through schooling. The Nigerian government estimates the group has destroyed over 200 schools. In February, 59 students were shot and hacked to death at the federal government college in the nearby town of Buni Yadi.
The government had actually closed the schools in the region in the face of these ruthless attacks, but these girls wanted to go to school. They wanted to get an education. Their school, which had been closed for a month, was reopened so they could just take their final exams. Something my daughter is doing right now at college. Something that high school kids the age of these girls are doing all over the United States right now. They were just trying to take their exam. These are the girls who should be the next generation of leaders in their community and their nation, not sold off to a band of thugs.
Fortunately, after this weekend, the world is finally paying attention, and I hope this Chamber pays 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 that international effort. I was encouraged that Secretary Kerry said this weekend that we will do everything possible to support the Nigerian government to return these young women to their homes and hold perpetrators to justice, but we need actions to back up these words, and I would like to suggest three actions we should take to help marshal a global response to this heinous crime.
First, the United States should seek a resolution from the United Nations Security Council condemning this attack and calling 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.
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.
Finally, we should work to strengthen the capabilities of local authorities in Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and other countries in the region to counter Boko Haram, protect children, particularly girls in their education systems and combat human trafficking.
I led a delegation last month to Mexico focused on fighting human trafficking. One of the lessons that I took away was the critical importance of training local law enforcement, prosecutors and judges to recognize trafficking when they see it. A sharp-eyed police officer in one of these countries can make all the difference in finding these girls.
Make no mistake, Mr. President, how we respond to the abduction of the school girls of Nigeria will send a message about our nation's commitment to human rights and the fight against modern-day slavery. Human trafficking is a stain on the conscience of the world. It is one of the reasons that I got involved in this issue having been a prosecutor and seeing the devastation that prostitution and sex trafficking wreaks on these girls.
In the United States, we have our own problems--83% of our victims in the United States are from the United States. We have had several prosecutions in my own state. We have had prosecutions in North Dakota. It's one of the reasons that I introduced a bill with Senator Cornyn. We have multiple authors that go after this crime and looks for a smarter way to handle these cases, which is modeled after a safe harbor law that Minnesota uses as well as 12 other states. The idea here is to treat these girls as victims. Their average age is 13 years old. Not old enough to drive, not old enough to go to their high school prom. And it takes that concept, puts it into a comprehensive sex trafficking strategy and goes after this in our own country.
It is now the world's third largest criminal enterprise, human trafficking, right behind drugs and guns, so don't think this is just something that people are talking about. It's not. It's happening right now. Nicholas Kristof and his wife Sheryl WuDunn wrote a book called "Half The Sky," named for the Chinese proverb women hold up half the sky. It's about human trafficking. It uses examples from all over the world. In it, they argue that it is not hyperbole to say that millions of women and girls are actually enslaved today. They estimate that two million disappear each year. In fact, this book was written long before this happened in Nigeria. One of the examples they used is a girl being abducted in Nigeria.
One of the examples they used are girls being abducted in Moldova, one of the poorest countries in that region. Senator McCain just went to Moldova and came back, and when he was there, he asked where are all the young girls and women, and the officials there told him, well, many of them have been trafficked to other countries, trafficked to Russia.
This is happening right now, and these girls in Nigeria need our help. The girls abducted and apparently sold into forced marriages in Nigeria are as young as 15 years old. They are being forced to endure no one, let alone a young girl, should ever have to experience.
Simply put, this is a barbaric practice that must be extinguished from the world. In the book that was written, they likened this to what Britain did in the early 1800's when they abolished slavery. They noted what mattered the most in turning the tide against slavery with the British public was not the abolitionist passion and moral conviction, as important as that was, but instead what turned the tide was what they called the meticulously amassed evidence of barbarity. The human beings packed into the holds of slave ships, the stink, the diseases, the corpses, the bloody manacles.
We cannot close our eyes to the clear evidence of barbarity unfolding before us in Nigeria. This is one of our times when our action or inaction will be felt not just by those schoolgirls being held captive and their families weighing in agony, but by -- waiting in agony, but by victims and perpetrators of trafficking around the world. Now is the time to act.
Thank you, Mr. President. I yield the floor.