MPs put partisan politics aside Monday during a special after-hours debate on the plight of more than 300 Nigerian schoolgirls abducted by militant Islamist group Boko Haram, calling for Canada to help in their rescue and rehabilitation. MPs also discussed the larger issue of safe and healthy education for children worldwide.

NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar lodged a formal request for an emergency debate last Thursday.

"The world was shocked when over 300 girls were kidnapped from the sanctity of learning, from a place where we want children to thrive, and they were kidnapped for reasons that have to do with striking terror into communities," he said.

"It's something we cannot imagine here in Canada. We must do everything we can to bring these girls back to safety, to bring back our girls." 

He also noted that the government has already indicated that "some initial steps … have been taken," but used Monday's platform to call for more action. 

France Nigeria Kidnapped Girls

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has agreed to attend a security summit on Saturday in Paris to focus on the Boko Haram terrorist network. MPs urge Canada to have representatives there as well. (Michel Euler/Associated Press)

French President Francois Hollande invited Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan and leaders from neighbouring Benin, Chad, Cameroon and Niger, as well as representatives of Britain, the EU and the United States, to a summit on Saturday to focus on Boko Haram, terrorism and insecurity in Africa.

Dewar said he hopes Canadian representatives will attend the conference as well, and contribute to monitoring the broader rescue response plan to ensure operations do not put other children at risk. 

Co-ordinated approach

"There needs to be a co-ordinated approach and that can be brought up at the conference with President Hollande," Dewar said. 

He also said Canada should "engage our international partners to make sure all children have access to the education they deserve."

"Canada has pledged $30 million a year for the next four years to invest in education to lift children and families out of poverty," he said. "There are gaps in the funding for global education, but we can push other governments to do so too."

When pushed by Elizabeth May, MP for Saanich-Gulf Islands, to provide more specifics about what the Canadian government can do, Dewar mentioned providing equipment and training to Nigerian officials to better conduct surveillance, comparing it to Canada's efforts with Nigerian forces in the case of Darfur.

The debate widened to include arguments about safe education in western Africa, regulating the Arms Trade Treaty, human trafficking, psycho-social assistance to help the girls reintegrate into their communities, campaigns to end child early enforced marriage and sexual violence in areas of conflict, and using Canada's influence to inspire the U.K. and U.S. to contribute more. 

Safe education around the world

Dewar said more than 50 schools in Nigeria were attacked in the first seven months of 2013, which has created a culture of fear. Thousands of children in Borno state in northeastern Nigeria stopped attending school as a result of the attacks. 

He said 10 million children are now out of school in Nigeria, and nearly 60 per cent of those children are girls. 

"Our response as Canada should recognize this reality," he said. "This is about the future, not just Nigeria, but of our children."

As it was a take-note debate, no vote was taken.