Nigerian officials say they are negotiating with local rebels over the release of about 180 abducted schoolgirls, many of whom have reportedly already been sold as child brides.
The Boko Haram militants, who abducted the children ages 12 to 17 two weeks ago, are demanding an unspecified ransom from Borno state officials, a community leader told the Associated Press. He also said that two of the girls, who were taken after completing their final exams and driven off to the remote Sambisa forest, have died from snake bites.
On Wednesday reports emerged that the girls were being sold for $12 each and forced to marry. Some have been taken across the border into Chad and Cameroon, their families say.
Outrage over the government's failure to free the captives is growing among Nigerians, and on Wednesday several hundred protesters took to the street to press authorities toward decisive action. Senator Ali Ndume has called for international help to free the abductees, saying the government must do "whatever it takes, even seeking external support to make sure these girls are released," as he believes the Nigerian military has been proved incapable of rescuing them.
Others complain about the security forces' slow response. The girls have reportedly been driven around in open trucks by the militant group, which has taken over large swaths of the country's northeast.
"What bothered me the most is that whenever I informed the military where these girls were, after two to three days they were moved from that place to another. Still, I would go back and inform them on new developments," Senator Ahmad Zanna told the Nigerian news group Persecond News.
Boko Haram is vehemently opposed to Western education and aims to create a strict Islamic state in the northern part of the country. The kidnapping of the girls is seen as one of the most brazen attacks in the five years since the group grew to prominence.