WASHINGTON/ABUJA - SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT/REUTERS - Pakistani education activist Malala Yousafzai, who is celebrating her 17th birthday in Nigeria, has underscored the need for galvanizing international efforts to ensure girls worldwide get education as she drew attention to the plight of 66 million out of school girls as well as those suffering in the conflict zones.
“I think of the girls from Syria who not so long ago knew what it felt like to be in a classroom and now live in refugee camps while the world stands by as they become a lost generation,” Malala wrote in The Washington Post.
“I think of girls who are caught in the crossfire of conflict between Gaza and Israel, heads down as they hear the terrifying sound of the air-raid siren instead of heads down in a book, as they should be,” she added.
No student, anywhere, ever, should be a target of conflict or violence, said the activist.
“Let us all lay down our weapons. We cannot sit on the sidelines and let this continue.
Each of us is responsible. We cannot rest until we have justice and freedom for every girl and every boy.
“Since last Malala Day, I have been working to help my sisters, raising my voice. But we must all do more.”
Meanwhile, Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan promised on Monday that more than 200 Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped by militants would ‘soon’ return home, Malala said after meeting him.
Jonathan faces criticism at home and abroad over the deteriorating security situation.
"The president promised me ... that the abducted girls will return to their homes soon," Malala, who has called the 219 missing students her sisters, told a news conference after a 45-minute meeting with Jonathan at the presidential villa.
She did not say whether the Nigerian leader had given her any fresh details of the military search operation for the girls to support his assurance. Nigeria is receiving intelligence and surveillance assistance from the United States, Britain, France and other foreign allies but has so far shown little progress in getting the Chibok girls back.
Malala said she would hold the Nigerian leader to his pledge. "I will from now be counting days and will be looking. I can't stop this campaign until I see these girls return back to their families and continue their education," she said.
She added that Jonathan had also promised that once the missing girls were rescued, they would be given scholarships to go to school in any part of Nigeria.
Pressed by journalists on what the president had told her, Malala said Jonathan described the girls' situation as "complicated" and that their lives could be put at risk by a military rescue attempt.
"But the president said these girls are his daughters and he is pained by their sufferings and that he has his own daughters and he can feel what they are feeling ... He has several options but ... he will choose the best to ensure the girls are released safely," she said.