Rebecca Samuel, One of the mothers of the missing Girls in Abuja on Sunday. Photo: Guardian.co.uk/Olamikan Gbemikan/AP
Pakistani teenager and girl rights campaigner Malala Yousafzai had an early birthday celebration in the most unlikeliest of places- in Abuja with some of the girls who escaped captivity at the hands of Boko Haram.
The Birmingham school pupil arrived Nigeria on Sunday where she met with some of the girls and the families of up to 200 girls who are still in the hands of terrorist group Boko Haram.
Malala who herself has experienced violence at the hands of the Taliban when she miraculously survived a gun shot to the head as she made her way to school in a village in Pakistan in 2009 told the families in Abuja that the missing girls were ‘her sisters’ and that she would not stop campaigning until they returned home alive.
The attack prompted her to start the Malala fund which helps to campaign for girls rights and education around the world. Malala has also since become a leading voice in the campaign for girls education.
The Guardian’s Monica Mark reported from Abuja that an early celebration to mark the teenager’s 17th birthday on Monday drew both laughter and tears as she commiserated with the families on Sunday. “I can see those girls as my sisters”, she said…”And I’m going to speak up for them until they are released.”
“I’m going to participate actively in the Bring Back Our Girls campaign to make sure that they return safely.”
Malala is in Nigeria to meet with Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan whose administration has been widely criticised for its poor handling of the abduction which saw Boko Haram kidnap over 2oo girls from their dormitories in Chibok, Borno state.
After meeting with the President, Malala told the press men in Abuja on Monday that President Jonathan had promised her that he would ensure that the girls are returned by ‘using various options’ available to him.
She challenged the Nigerian government on education revealing that only 1.5% of the country’s budget was spent on education. The 17 year old said this had to increase and that she was “hopeful the international community will take this seriously and take every action”. She also said that the President told her that his government’s efforts at rescuing the girls hadn’t yielded results because the militant group were a very strong group and that Nigeria’s peculiar political landscape made things even more difficult than it may seem.
According to reports, President Jonathan has agreed to meet with parents of the missing girls after his conversation with Malala although it was not confirmed to the press as to when and how this will take place.
The social media campaign #BringBackOurGirls led by various Nigerian activists including Japheth Omojuwa and former Minister for Education Oby Ezekwesili drew international attention to the plight of the missing girls with celebrities and US First Lady Michelle Obama joining the campaign.
Even though the campaign has waned in tempo over the past month, protesters who have accused the Nigerian security forces of intimidation still engage in sit ins and rallies on a daily basis at Abuja’s Unity Fountain.
Some of the girls have managed to escape in pockets, but the actual number of girls still in the hands of the terrorist group remains unknown.