Malala Yousafzai

To mark her 17th birthday and the United Nations sanctioned Malala Day, youth activist Malala Yousafzai visited Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan yesterday in an attempt to keep attention on the plight of over 200 schoolgirls who are still being held captive by extremist group Boko Haram.

Malala, who is the same age as many of the missing girls, understands the difficulties faced by both the girls and their parents – she survived an assassination attempt by the Taliban in her native country of Pakistan (she was shot in the face by extremists while on a bus, on her way to school). It was her activism for the education of girls that put her life in danger but instead of deterring her, it has only fuelled her ambitions.

On Sunday, accompanied by her father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, she met with 12 parents of the missing girls, as well as five of the girls who managed to escape. She offered them support, and reiterated that it was her intention to pass on their messages directly to President Jonathan and to keep pressure on the Nigerian government to rescue the kidnapped girls as soon as possible. Speaking with the families of the ‘lost girls,’ she said: “I consider those girls as my sisters. They are my sisters and I am going to speak up for them until they are released.”

After her 45-minute meeting with President Jonathan she told reporters that the President had agreed to meet with the parents for the first time, said that he was seemed deeply upset about the fate of his “daughters” and that he’d offered to give them all scholarships on their return.

“The president has expressed his solidarity with those girls and his sadness,” said Malala. “He has assured that these girls will come back home safely. He has several options but that he will choose the best to ensure the girls are released safely.”

Boko Haram has demanded the release of their imprisoned fighters in exchange for the girls, however the President has publicly ruled out negotiations. An armed rescue attempt is seen as too risky by the Nigerian government, so it is believed that there might be some low-key negotiations taking place.

In a chilling new Boko Haram video, released the same day Malala met with the parents, leader Abubakar Shekau reinforced his demands while mocking the #BringBackOurGirls campaign, which was supported by many celebrities including Michelle Obama. The Boko Harem leader said: “Nigerians are saying ‘bring back our girls,’ and we are telling Jonathan to bring back our arrested warriors, our army.”

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Image: Getty