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Tuesday, 13 May 2014
Page: 2500

Senator MOORE (Queensland) (21:32): On 14 April, 200 schoolgirls, most of them between the ages of 16 and 18, were abducted in an overnight raid on the government girls secondary school in Chibok, north-eastern Nigeria. This abduction was claimed publicly in a video by the Boko Haram terrorist group, which is well-known in that part of Africa. The group's leader, Abubakar Shekau, in his video, threatened to sell the girls into sexual slavery or forced marriage. He said: 'I abducted your girls. I will sell them in the market, by Allah. Women are slaves. I want to ensure my Muslim brothers that Allah says slaves are permitted in Islam. I will marry off women at the age of 12. I will marry off a girl at the age of nine.'

This leader has spread his message of terror across the world. And it is not a recent activity. Naturally, the world has been appalled by the abduction of these young women. 'Boko Haram', from the Hausa language, means 'Western education is a sin'. This particular group has been active in terrorism in the region for a number of years. To the best of our knowledge, the group was established in 2002. It has a particular strategy of targeting children in education because, as the name suggests, it has a particular view about the access of young people to education which may move them out poverty and into opportunities for the future. This is not peculiar to Nigeria. In fact, Nigeria has a long history of supporting and acknowledging the role of education. Living in Australia are many people of Nigerian background who are very highly educated. These people have joined their voices to the international group that is saying what has happened is horrific and must stop.

In this place we have talked for many years about the particular need for young girls to have access to education. Natasha Stott-Despoja, our new Ambassador for Women and Girls, has written an article in which she has linked this activity in Nigeria to some of the international statistics. This activity is not hidden and it is happening across the world. We know that 65 million girls across the world are out of school and, globally, one out of five girls of lower secondary school age does not attend school. Every year, 10 million girls are forced or coerced into marriage. That is about one girl every three seconds. One in three girls in the developing world is married by the age of 18, and one in seven is married before they reach the age of 15.

Through the activities of the Millennium Development Goals, countries across the world, including Nigeria, have worked intensively within their own communities to look at the issues of education and forced marriage. This abduction has brought into stark relief the whole concern about people hiding behind culture to actually take part in war. Across the world, there has been a response, talking about the fact that this particular terrorist group proclaims that they are living the Muslim life, that they are proclaiming their support for Allah. The Muslim people in Australia, and across the world, reject this activity. Unfortunately, this public focus has reinforced some of the hatred and division across the world that blames Islam for activities that are strictly reprehensible and are hated by the people who practise the Muslim faith.

In the social media response that has grown up in response to this, there has been an outburst that says: 'We want to bring back our girls'. It is positive and encouraging to see people across the world joining in this campaign, including people in this place. What we see also is that this is unifying practising Muslims, who are feeling that their own faith is being attacked by the behaviour of Boko Haram. The social media campaign has also unleashed views that I find particularly offensive. Some of the comments that have been put on social media, in response to the issue that have come out of the work by Natasha Stott-Despoja and others, claim that the response is building up a gender divide.

There is no contest about what is horrific. This group is a terrorist group and its activities in Nigeria and in the neighbouring countries have attacked boys and girls. There is no contest here. We are not favouring one gender over another. What we have seen is a response to an horrific incident, and this particular abduction of 200 young women at the same time is a very blatant public attention-grabbing exercise by the group. It has achieved that—it has actually focused attention on the issue. But this should not lead to people who are looking at the incident fighting amongst themselves by saying, 'This group has also attacked young men.' What we are talking about is the issue of terror, and what has occurred in Nigeria in this case is a terrorist activity.

The media has revealed that even since 14 April, when this abduction took place, there have been other issues in Nigeria. People have been killed by car bombs and other young women had been attacked. We know that this group is trying to make their name in the terror hierarchy to say that they now have power in the group. We appreciate the fact that nations across the world have offered assistance. We know that there is support from the UK, from the US and France—and I believe only as recently as this afternoon, Israel—where specialist groups have said they will share their response to the issue with the Nigerian government.

The impressive thing about how this came to the attention of the western world was not that this was announced publicly by the Nigerian government. Rather, the parents of the young women themselves used their media contacts and social media to tell the world what had happened to their daughters. And it was the resilience, the passion and the commitment of those parents that ensured that this was not hidden. With the assistance of people working in Nigeria, they were able to get this message across the world so that we can all be part of sending our support to those parents and families to ensure that we share their demand to bring back their girls. I believe that that shows that there is cooperation now, certainly in terms of looking at the activities of the terrorist group and working together in an antiterrorist strategic way, to ensure that activities such as these are identified as illegal and that every effort will be made to bring the perpetrators to justice.

This morning there was a video that came out from the leader of this group, Boko Haram, which portrayed the 'amazing conversion' of a number of the young women to the Muslim faith. Obviously, it neglected to identify that the young women at the school were both Muslim and Christian, so this was not specifically taking people and forcing them into the Muslim faith. But in a strong history of 'victor takes all', we have seen forced conversions into religion over centuries of warfare and terrorism. One of the saddest things I have ever seen was this morning's video with young women standing up, portraying that they are now changing their faith and they understand that they should now be married and move away from education. That is a message to all of us that see that to know that this is wrong. We can never respond to terrorism. We must share in the international response which says we will work together to ensure that the girls are brought back. And when they are brought back, we must ensure that they are given support in their families and their communities. All too often when women are caught up in acts of terrorism or are victims of war they are then lost when returned to community. I do not believe that will happen in Nigeria, because in fact it is the families who have stood up most strongly for their own children.

When we use social media, we must use it to ensure that we work for unity and to bring forward a strong message. To put our own prejudices and our own hatred into the social media means that the people who are acting as terrorists have actually won. We are better than that in the international community. We can respond to this horror by ensuring that we understand that what has happened is wrong. These young women need to be found. They need to be supported, and I join my voice to the international campaign to bring back the girls.