Teenage Pakistani rights campaigner Malala Yousafzai has arrived in Nigeria, pledging to help free a group of school girls kidnapped by Boko Haram militants.
Malala, who turns 17 on Monday, met with parents of some of the girls who haven’t been seen since being abducted in April from a school in the village of Chibok in northeastern Nigeria.
Some of the parents broke down into 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.
“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 posed by Boko Haram, whose name roughly translates into ‘books are sinful’ and who have been responsible for dozens of suicide bombings and abductions across Nigeria.
A #BringBackOurGirls Twitter campaign supported by Michelle Obama and Angelina Jolie increased pressure on the Nigerian authorities who were seen as not being proactive in trying to save the girls.
Two months after the kidnapping however, the girls have not been freed and media interest – in Nigeria and rest of the world – has waned.
“I can feel … the circumstances under which you are suffering,” she 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.”
Malala was targeted by Taliban militants in Pakistan’s restive Swat valley in October 2012 for calling for education for girls.
She survived being shot while on her way to school and was later transported to Birmingham for specialist treatment.
Malala has won the European Union’s prestigious human rights award and was one of the favourites to win the Nobel Peace Prize last year, although the award ended up going to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.