Pakistani teen Malala Yousafzai, shot in the head by the Taliban after campaigning for the right to education for girls, promised Sunday to help free a group of Nigerian schoolgirls abducted by Islamist militants.
Malala met with parents of the more than 200 girls who were kidnapped by Boko Haram from their school in April. The bold attack drew an international outcry, including a social media campaign on Twitter featuring the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls.
Some of the parents, gathered Sunday at a hotel in the Nigerian capital of Abuja, broke down into tears as Malala spoke, NBC News reported.
"I can see those girls as my sisters ... and I'm going to speak up for them until they are released," said Malala, who turns 17 Monday. She was scheduled to meet with President Goodluck Jonathan. "My birthday wish this year is ... bring back our girls now and alive," she said.
Shettima Haruna, whose daughter Margaret was abducted, stood up at the rally and addressed the crowd, The Guardian reported: "We parents thank you all for standing with us all this while. If not for your support, interest would have died down completely. The only reason this case is still receiving attention is through this group."
First lady Michelle Obama and Angelina Jolie are among celebrities who have been pressing Nigerian authorities to find the hostages. Still, interest has waned. Earlier this month, the U.S. reduced the number of surveillance planes that are looking for the missing girls, according to U.S. Africa Command spokesman Benjamin Benson. He said the planes are needed for other missions.
Boko Haram — which means "western education is a sin" — has been leading an insurgency against the Nigerian government in northern Nigeria for several years. The group's leader, Abubakar Shekau, took responsibility for the mass abduction April 15 of the Nigerian students at the Chibok Government Girls Secondary School. He has threatened to sell the children into slavery, but says they have converted to Islam and that many have married his soldiers.
Malala was 11 when she began blogging under a pseudonym about the difficulties girls encountered obtaining an education under Taliban rule in the Swat district of northwest Pakistan. The BBC published her blog, and she rocketed to international fame.
In October 2012, an assassin boarded her school bus and shot her in the head. The Taliban claimed responsibility, and the man who plotted the assassination later became head of the Pakistani Taliban. Malala was critically wounded, eventually being airlifted to England for treatment and rehabilitation. She now lives in Birmingham, England.