Pakistani rights activist Malala Yousafzai, who survived being shot in the head by the Taliban for campaigning for girls’ education, pledged while on a trip to Nigeria to help free a group of schoolgirls abducted by Islamist militants.
On Sunday, Malala met parents of the more than 200 girls who were kidnapped by the militant group Boko Haram from a school in the northeastern village of Chibok in April.
Boko Haram, inspired by the Taliban, say they are fighting to establish an Islamic state in religiously mixed Nigeria. The group, whose name means “Western education is sinful”, has killed thousands and abducted hundreds since launching an uprising in 2009.
Some of the parents broke down in tears as Malala spoke at a hotel in the capital Abuja on Sunday.
“I can see those girls as my sisters … and I’m going to speak up for them until they are released,” said Malala, who was due to meet President Goodluck Jonathan on Monday, her 17th birthday.
“I’m going to participate actively in the ‘Bring back our girls’ campaign, to make sure that they return safely and they continue their education.”
The girls’ abduction drew unprecedented international attention to the war in Nigeria’s northeast and the growing security risk that Boko Haram poses to Nigeria, Africa’s leading energy producer.
A #BringBackOurGirls Twitter campaign supported by Michelle Obama and Angelina Jolie heaped pressure on authorities to act, and Jonathan pledged to save the girls, drawing promises of Western help to do so.
“I can feel … the circumstances under which you are suffering,” Malala said. “It’s quite difficult for a parent to know that their daughter is in great danger. My birthday wish this year is … bring back our girls now, and alive.”