ABUJA, Nigeria — Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani schoolgirl who survived an attack by the Taliban, on Monday appealed to Boko Haram militants in Nigeria to lay down their weapons and “stop misusing the name of Islam.”
Malala is visiting Nigeria in support of an estimated 276 girls kidnapped by Boko Haram from their school in Chibok in northeastern Nigeria on April 14.
Boko Haram, whose name roughly translates as “Western education is a sin” in the local Hausa language, is trying to impose Sharia law across Nigeria and especially opposes the education of women.
Malala has been an outspoken supporter of girls’ education. In 2012, her views made her the target of the Pakistan Taliban, which tried to assassinate the then-15-year-old as she traveled home from school.
She survived and a year later launched the nonprofit Malala Fund, aimed at empowering girls through education.
In 2013, the United Nations declared Malala’s birthday, July 12, Malala Day as she addressed the U.N. General Assembly in New York. This year she is in Nigeria for Malala Day, which is being celebrated Monday, two days after her 17th birthday.
Over the weekend, Malala met some of the schoolgirls who managed to escape Boko Haram and the families of the more than 200 girls still missing. Outrage at the mass abduction inspired the social media campaign #BringBackOurGirls, with Malala among the global faces photographed holding a sign with the hashtag.
She met with Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan on Monday in the capital, Abuja.
Nigerians and others have accused the government of not acting swiftly or efficiently enough to protect the girls who were abducted from Chibok. But the military has defended its response saying its soldiers have to enforce a state of emergency across Borno state, where Chibok is situated — an area of more than 90,000 square kilometers (34,750 square miles).
After her meeting with Jonathan, CNN asked Malala if he had said whether any progress had been made in finding the girls.
“As you all know, in politics nothing is clear. In the circumstances nothing is clear really, but the President did make promises, and the President said that he feels that these girls are his daughters,” Malala said. She added that Jonathan had said he would meet the parents of kidnapped girls and provide support to those who had escaped Boko Haram.
Jonathan told Malala that the government “was definitely doing everything possible to ensure that the girls were rescued alive and safely returned to their parents,” his office said in a statement.
“Terror is relatively new here and dealing with it has its challenges. The great challenge in rescuing the Chibok girls is the need to ensure that they are rescued alive,” he said. “We have had teams from the United States, Britain, France, Israel and other friendly nations working with us here on the rescue effort and they all appreciate the challenges and the need to thread carefully to achieve our purpose.”
Jonathan also thanked Malala for “your efforts to change the world positively through your powerful advocacy for girl-child education,” the statement said.
Malala later gave a speech to mark Malala Day to an audience that included advocates from the #BringBackOurGirls campaign and some of the schoolgirls who had escaped Boko Haram.
Malala said she had told the President: “You need to fulfill your responsibilities.”
She also issued an appeal to the militants.
“I ask Boko Haram to stop misusing the name of Islam,” she said. “Lay down your weapons, release your sisters, release my sisters and release the daughters of this nation.”
A country “becomes powerful when its people become educated,” she said. “Let us not forget that one book, one pen, one child and one teacher can change the world.”
In May, Malala told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour that women were targeted by those who feared a society in which women are empowered.
Malala’s activism started after the Taliban banned girls from schools in Pakistan’s Swat Valley in 2009. She anonymously blogged for the BBC in opposition to that order and became an open advocate for girls’ education.
In 2011, Malala told CNN, “I have the right of education. I have the right to play. I have the right to sing. I have the right to talk.”
A year later, she was riding the bus home from school when a Taliban gunman climbed aboard and shot her in the head, nearly killing her.
Since then, Malala has continued advocating for girls’ education despite ongoing death threats from the Taliban.
— CNN’s Susannah Cullinane wrote from London, and CNN’s Brent Swails reported from Abuja. CNN’s Nana Karikari-apau also contributed to this report.