This Campaign Works Toward #SafeSchools for All Children

06/16/2014 11:50 am ET | Updated Dec 03, 2015
ASSOCIATED PRESS

For the 200 adolescent Nigerian girls abducted by terrorists from their school dormitories, two months of captivity will seem like an eternity.

Since that first haunting photograph of girls flanked by gunmen, information has been sparse. It is thought that they have been split into small groups, and the rescuers privately warned that action to rescue one group will mean the deaths of all others. As the search continues, other Nigerian girls wake up every day in fear of going to school, worried that their playground may be the next target of Boko Haram in its terrorist war against girls' education.

While a security memorandum of understanding has just between signed between Nigeria, the U.S., U.K., China and France, there has already been an exodus of fearful residents from remote Northern villages. The Governor of the Borno state has warned that if his state becomes ungovernable, the rule of law across the whole of Nigeria is in jeopardy.

But young supporters of the Chibok girls will not let international interest dim and will be demonstrating support for the girls Monday, June 16, which is African Children's Day. They will call on governments not only to support enhanced rescue efforts for the kidnapped girls but invest to ensure that Nigeria's 1.5 million out-of-school girls and boys can be guaranteed safe schools in future.

On Tuesday, with an initial $10 million from the Nigerian government and another $10 million from the Nigerian business community, we are launching a Safe Schools Initiative. It is designed to secure worldwide support for a basic right -- that children should be able to go to school without fear, their parents safe in the knowledge that they will return home. In addition to sending a message of solidarity with the girls of Chibok, the Safe Schools Initiative is a chance for the world to donate to the Safe School cause.

A commitment to fund security measures from school gate guards to fortifications will send out a message to the world of our determination that every girl should be free to go to a safe school. It will also send out a message that when the abducted girls return home, they too will be guaranteed a safe school and to learn free from the fear of further attacks.

To counter the continuing terror threat, every school in Northern Nigeria needs to be made safe and secure from terrorist incursions with the provision of communications, surveillance equipment and parent organizations to guard their children's schools.

In 2014, almost 70 years after Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we are in the midst of a liberation struggle that has yet to establish every girl's right to life, education and dignity. The Chibok girls' plight reflects a civil rights struggle that is one of the most important of our generation. On their behalf, we demand a right to education and an end to child labor, child marriage, child trafficking and all discrimination against girls.

Every day millions of girls are in slavery. Ten million girls are forced into child marriage, often at ages of 8, 9 or 10. Seven million girls are subjected to child labor, often without pay and in the worst possible conditions. Thousands are trafficked, and many more are subject to genital mutilation. All of these girls share one common feature -- their rights are what others bestow, and their opportunities are only what patriarchs decree.

Fortunately the girls' liberation struggle now stretches across the world. From the Nilphamari Child Marriage Free Zone in Bangladesh to Nepal's Common Forum for Kalmal Hari Freedom and Indonesia's Grobogan Child Empowerment Group, right across to Africa with the Ugandan Child Protection Club and the Upper Manya Krobo Rights of the Child Club, groups are making progress. These groups are not household names but embryonic civil rights movements in their own countries. Many are among the 300 national organizations affiliated with the worldwide Girls not Brides movement, inspired by Princess Mabel van Outen and attempting to ban early marriage.

And girls themselves have taken over the leadership of the struggle for rights. A few weeks ago, I spoke to 2,000 girls in Pakistan, 18 months after Malala was shot. Back then I found girls were angry but still cowed into submission. Now, during my event visit, they are a vociferous campaigning group determined not to allow Pakistan to fail to educate girls.

So on Monday, the Day of The African Child, we will make girls' rights the centerpiece of worldwide demonstrations. We will stand in solidarity with all girls denied basic rights. We will think of the girls of Chibok, who were preparing to take their exams when they had years of hard work and planning for the future snatched away from them. Unless the world makes its views heard, the kidnapped girls will be quietly forgotten. We cannot allow that. We cannot fail them.

The Day of the African Child was designated by the African union in memory of students massacred in Soweto in 1976 for protesting against education injustice. It will see a flagship "youth takeover" of the African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and then 20 parliamentary takeovers by young people who will occupy their national assemblies in support of the Chibok girls and girls' rights to education around the world. There will be events in cities across the world including Rio, Lagos, Hanoi, Cairo and Islamabad.

Let this year be the last year that we have to use our energies to demonstrate for the basic right to education. Let us take action and make sure that by 2015, all children are granted the right to learn.