Bring Back Our Girls. Bring Back our Daughters. Protect the Future of Our Girls. The messages on the banners held by heartbroken mothers and fathers could not be clearer. The parents of the girls who were brutally abducted from their school in northern Nigeria three weeks ago just want their beloved children back home.
Kidnapped and taken into the remote forest area of Borno State, the parents do not know whether their daughters have been murdered, sold into marriage or trafficked into neighbouring countries. Their anguish is inciting a worldwide movement – we now realize just how many children are not safe when they are at school.
It is time to act for the 200 missing girls in Nigeria and to try and find them using all means possible. And it is time to act for the children in the 30 other countries where there are attacks on education by state security forces and non-state armed groups.
Since 2011, terrorist group Boko Haram has expanded its attacks to directly target schools, resulting in the destruction of school buildings and teaching material as well as the abduction and killing of hundreds of teachers and students. Now their leader has posted a video flaunting their actions and pledging to sell off the girls into early marriage and forced labour. This must not turn into a publicity coup for them, but must be a call to action for the international community to end this time of terror.
We support the new Safe Schools Initiative in Nigeria, launched by the Nigerian Business Leaders group together with the Global Business Coalition for Education (GBC-Education). Safe Schools will provide reinforced school infrastructure, student and teacher housing, armed guards, a security plan with safety officers and counsellors, and contribute to a rapid response system for rebuilding schools that have been attacked.
There is more that can be done to ensure that children are able to continue to attend school safely. Today we also call on governments, charities and businesses to support community education committees who can use local knowledge and context, and may even know individuals involved, to help devise practical solutions for protecting education from attack and to ensure schools are peaceful zones.
We would welcome the introduction of teacher-student-parent defence units to work together to protect education. These units could be used by parents to warn teachers of imminent attack, or for teachers to become aware of student participation in political or militia camps on school grounds. This system has been hugely successful in several schools in Zimbabwe.
The engagement of religious leaders is also important. They must support the right to education for every child and condemn the attacks. The Safe Schools Initiative in Nigeria benefits from the participation of religious leaders who speak publicly about the importance of education. The support of these leaders has worked well in similar situations in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Somalia. The newly formed Global Faiths Coalition for Education could be called upon to help.
This international education crisis needs us all to make a difference. You can log on to aworldatschool.org, sign this petition to help get Nigeria’s girls back, and look at the charities and NGOs that you support and check that they count education as important.
We need the global community to stand up together and Bring Back Our Girls in Nigeria and everywhere where educational opportunity is under threat and intimidation.
Image: A sign pinned to a tree during a demonstration against the kidnapping of school girls in Nigeria. REUTERS/ Olivia Harris