More details have emerged of the scale of abductions, forced conversions and then marriage of Christian girls in northern Nigeria.

For instance, in the state of Kano in the last five years, over 40 Christian girls have been abducted and Islamised, and many married to Muslims. But locals say many similar cases go unreported across the north.

On 16 August this year, Sarah Jonathan, 15, was abducted and taken to the palace of the Emir of Saminaka in the south of Kaduna State, south of Kano. Three months later her father, Jonathan Usman, from the Evangelical ECWA Church in Lere Local Government Area, was forced to appear before a Sharia court by her abductors. He learned that his daughter had been married off to an unknown person, on the pretext that she had converted to Islam.

A year earlier, on 12 August 2015, Patience Paul, 15, was abducted by two neighbours accompanied by the Hisba (Sharia enforcement) group, in Sokoto State in the extreme north-west of Nigeria. Following a complaint lodged by her brother, her abductors reportedly informed the police they had taken Patience to the palace of the Sultan of Sokoto – the most influential figure for Nigeria’s Fulani and Hausa peoples – and the family was advised to “go away and maintain the peace”.

The Sokoto State Human Rights Commission initiated an investigation into Patience’s disappearance, which uncovered that she had been “married” to a man who had taken her more than 500 miles (800km) to Bauchi State – on the other side of Kano. She was eventually rescued and returned to her family in March this year.

On the same day that Patience was abducted, Ese Rita Oruru, 13, from Bayelsa State in the south, was abducted by Yunusa Dahiru and taken to Kano city as his wife. Ese was released six months later following a public outcry and pressure from Christians and human right groups. She was, however, pregnant when she was released. Dahiru has since been arrested and charged with abduction, kidnapping, and sexual exploitation.

Highlighting child kidnappings on social media has put pressure on authorities and abductors and challenged the culture of impunity that has surrounded such abductions. It has also galvanised campaigns for other abducted minors, causing parents who had given up hope to renew their demands for their children’s release.

On 6 March this year, Punch, the newspaper that first published the account of Ese’s kidnapping, ran a front page story and a lengthy report calling for the then-Inspector General of Police, Solomon Arase, to ensure the release of other abducted under-18s.