Mr. Speaker, I think I speak for everyone in this House tonight who has given of their time and their sleep to speak on this subject. We are all seized with this event and are horrified and concerned.
I woke this morning and turned on the TV, as I am apt to do, to scan the news on CBC and CTV and to catch up on what had happened overnight to prepare myself for the day to some extent. I was shocked and horrified by the images of some of these young girls who reportedly were forced to convert to Islam.
I was struck by a banner I saw on CTV this morning about one of the young girls who managed to escape, which said that she was afraid to go to school. These are the words of one of the handful of young women who managed to escape her captors. This young woman, with the blessing of her parents and her family, chose to learn about herself and the world around her.
These young women chose to take advantage of the opportunities, limited though they may be, to build a better life for themselves. This opportunity was stolen from them. As these young girls sat in their class to learn, they experienced a lesson in brutality. They experienced a lesson in the evil men do.
They were taken from that place where they felt safe. They were taken from their families. The men that stole them call themselves the faithful. They call themselves warriors of Islam. However, I would like to stress that this act of thuggery, this act of cowardice, has nothing to do with Islam, as I have come to learn and as it has been expressed to me by members of the Muslim community in my riding that I have had the pleasure of meeting with.
This, in no uncertain terms, was an act of war. It is an act that brings a heightened reality to the changing face of war, where young girls, women, and communities are targeted with the sole purpose of destroying that which the community holds dear.
We see this type of warfare perpetrated in many parts of the world. We saw it, for example, in the attempted assassination of a young schoolgirl named Malala Yousafzai. Why? It was because she wanted to go to school.
According to UNESCO's website, apparently two-thirds of the out-of-school children in Pakistan are girls, which results in women being two-thirds of the illiterate in their communities.
Women and children are being targeted as strategic targets in conflict areas, in conflicts that hide behind false faith and manipulative ideologies. Neither Nigerians nor the international community are prepared. We are not prepared to deal with the stealing of children from their schools, and we need to be.
We need to be able to act pre-emptively to protect those who would be targeted by men who give themselves names such as Boko Haram, and educating young girls to become leaders in their communities is part of that response.
There has to be a commitment from within Nigeria to protect the schools and the young souls that inhabit them.
We must also be prepared for the aftermath. The international community must develop, in concert with the communities, a support system for these young girls, their families and their communities. It should be a support system that allows for the healthy reintegration of these young girls when they are returned. No matter what faith any of us practice in the House or around the world, we all pray that each and every one of these young girls is returned to her family safely.
By sharing collective expertise, Nigeria and other countries that face similar acts of violence can develop the means to protect those who would be targeted and to respond to these needs. These acts are not new. The international community response, however, needs to change. We need to stop thinking of acts of this nature, of violence against women and the kidnapping of young girls, as offshoots of war. We need to start thinking of them as actual choices and as targeted actions.
The international community must refocus its efforts in capacity building. Canada must re-engage with the African continent, and it must do its part in helping to slow the flow of small arms into the African continent.
Canada and the international community must be vigilant and be seen to be vigilant in order to send a clear message that the kidnapping of young girls is a crime. We will work with Nigeria and the international community in responding to this crime.
Malala, the young Pakistani girl, spoke simply but precisely when she said, “...if we remain silent then this will spread, this will happen more and more and more”.
It is important that Canada does what it must to ensure that no young girl in Nigeria or any other part of the world has to say “I am afraid to go to school”.