Harriet Harman

Member of Parliament for Camberwell and Peckham. Mother of the House of Commons.

South London Press column: Missing Nigerian Schoolgirls - 23/05/ 2014

Everyone was horrified to see that over 200 girls had been abducted from their school in northern Nigeria. But it has been particularly heart-rending for the many Southwark residents who come from Nigeria and who still have family there. It’s been over a month since they were taken. The video broadcast by their captors must have been yet more torture for the parents who await their return.

They were taken by a militant group called ‘Boko Haram’, who are against Western education and are against any girl going to school.

It is the right of every child - boy and girl - to get an education. 

The most important thing now is to find the girls and bring them home. That is vital not just for each and every one of them. But it’s also important for all the other boys and girls in northern Nigeria. If Boko Haram are able to get away with this terrible crime, then parents in northern Nigeria will become fearful of sending their children to school - especially their daughters.

It’s essential not just for each child, but for Nigeria's future, that all girls in Nigeria go to school.  A country cannot develop and prosper economically if half the population - its women - are kept in illiteracy and ignorance. 

Given the gravity of the crime against so many young girls, it was extraordinary how long it took the Nigerian government to take action. And for too long the international community did not seem to be responding.

There's no doubt that the Nigerian government face difficulties with Boko Haram in northern Nigeria. That's why help from other countries internationally is so vital. Think of the massive international effort to find the missing Malaysian Airways plane with search equipment mobilised from all around the world.
To mobilise international action and to show the Nigerian government that we in the UK want them to do everything they can to get the girls back, and after discussions with my Nigerian constituents, I started a campaign in Parliament. I took up the case of the Nigerian girls with the Foreign Secretary William Hague and the Women’s Minister, I wrote to the Nigerian High Commissioner, and tabled a motion in Parliament which was signed by 94 Members of Parliament from all the political parties calling on the Government to support Nigerian efforts to find the girls and bring them home safely.

Our government has now sent a team of experts to help the Nigerian authorities and I welcome this. But we need to keep up the support and the pressure. I hope everyone will sign petitions and write to our government urging action.

This is not just a Nigerian issue. We must stand together in solidarity and back the right of every girl to receive an education. And we must leave no stone unturned until these girls are back with their families.

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