50 Days in Captivity

06/04/2014 12:24 pm ET | Updated Dec 03, 2015
  • Gordon Brown Former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom; UN Special Envoy for Global Education
PIUS UTOMI EKPEI via Getty Images

To a teenage girl, 50 days can seem like a lifetime. 50 days have gone by since over 200 schoolgirls, kidnapped from their school in Chibok by Boko Haram, were taken and remain in captivity.

A new video has been released by their captors and we cannot allow international focus to stray from Nigeria now we have heard their desperate pleas.

The film shows eight of the girls, dressed in their homemade school uniforms of pale blue gingham, forced to walk in front of a camera. One girl is heard saying: 'I never expected to suffer like this so much in my life'. Another cries: 'They have taken us away by force.' The third girl complains: 'We are not getting enough food.' An older girl keeping her composure says: 'My family will be so worried.'

The video was recorded two weeks ago and there are now fears that most girls are being held in Cameroon, Chad or Niger. The fear is that few remain in the Borno forest area into which they were first abducted.

Teams of military experts and advisers sent to the region are advising on possible rescue operations. Nigeria's Chief of Defence, Alex Badeh, has said the government knows the location of the girls.

However there is a premium on making existing schools safe and rebuilding the Chibok School to be ready for the return of the kidnapped girls if and when they are liberated.

The kidnapped girls and their families have a right to know that when they are released they will have a safe school to study in.

The petition that has captured the world's imagination to "Bring Back Our Girls" and create safe schools in Nigeria reached 995,000 signatures. And as silent vigils are held in Nigeria and across the world, attention has shifted to what we can do to not only bring back our girls but ensure all children are in safe learning environments

This is why the Safe Schools Initiative, a program launched by Global Business Coalition for Education in partnership with the Nigerian Government is so important. Both parents and children must feel that a place of learning is a place that will be protected.

A fortnight ago, I met with President Goodluck Jonathan in Paris and we agreed that while the hunt is on to locate the 280 missing schools girls, the Safe Schools Initiative could help Nigeria's other 30 million schoolchildren who are now in fear of going to school.

The fund already contains over $20 million, contributed by the Nigerian government and the Global Business Coalition for Education's Nigerian business community. Now attracting support from the UK, Norway and other countries, the Safe Schools Initiative is designed to reassure Nigeria's 30million schoolchildren that everything possible is being done to make their schools secure from Boko Haram -- the terrorist group which wants to stop any girl going to school.

We are two weeks away from the Day of the African Child, where I and many others are choosing to honor the bravery of the Chibok girls and all those children who fight for an education. During the next few months the Safe Schools Initiative fund for Nigeria is also gaining traction in time for the upcoming school year.

I have submitted a plan to President Jonathan with proposals for physical protection of schools, community liaison teams, better early warning systems in the event of attacks, and support for parents trying to keep the schools secure. Our measures draw on the experience we have gained from other conflict zones -- from Afghanistan and Pakistan to Somalia and Nepal.

These plans could be implemented quickly once the fund has gained its necessary finance. We are now working with experts from all over the world -- including the UN agencies in Nigeria and UNICEF experts who have implemented such programs in other countries -- to start to secure the schools in the north that are most vulnerable.

There are signs that Nigeria's youth will not be cowed by the terrorists. Late last month several Nigerian young people, appointed A World at School Global Youth Ambassadors, declared they will step up their work for the right of every child to go to school safely. We are working with faith communities led by Pope Francis and senior Muslim clerics who are taking a stand against violence.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu has agreed to support the observation of the Day of the African Child and he has offered support to the Nigerian schoolgirls. Members of the Global Faiths Coalition for Education -- including Muslim Aid, the Islamic Society of North America and others, have all condemned this attack on girls' education. In addition last week the International Trade Union confederation -- which counts 30million teachers among its 200million members, issued a statement of support. Over the last four years 171 teachers have been massacred in separate incidents in Borno state.

Every child is special, every child is unique and every child is precious, and they all deserve the right to learn. And on June 16, the Day of the African Child, the whole world should ponder the statement of the late Maya Angelou, which expresses the global desire to help the kidnapped girls. The writer said: 'None of us is free until all are free'. And we will not stop until every girl and boy is in school, safe and learning.

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