A protester holds a sign during a march in Cape Town in support of the girls kidnapped in Nigeria by members of Boko Haram. Picture: Sumaya Hisham

We have a responsibility to rally behind the parents, people and government of Nigeria and bring the girls back home, says Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka andBabatunde Osotimehin.

Johannesburg - Today more than 200 schoolgirls will wake up to another day in an unthinkable nightmare.

Three weeks ago, they were seized in the night by armed men dressed as soldiers, who said they were there to protect them.

In reality, the men were militant extremists who kidnapped them and set their boarding school on fire. The girls’ whereabouts remain unknown. This happened in Chibok, a town in north-eastern Nigeria.

This horrific act offends our common humanity and demands global outrage and action. We have a responsibility to rally behind the parents, people and government of Nigeria and bring the girls back home to safety.

The violation of the rights of women and girls on such a scale, no matter who they are and where they are, requires the whole world to stand up and take action.

We are racing against time and every moment counts.

The government of Nigeria must act fast and we need the support of the world.

We must send the message loud and clear that no girl should be abducted.

Human rights are indivisible and universal, yet women and girls continue to be systematically targeted, assaulted, trafficked and enslaved on a massive scale.

Globally, one in three women will experience violence in her lifetime.

For women and girls everywhere, violence and the fear of violence are a daily reality.

In conflict zones and in the presence of armed extremists, violence is an even bigger threat. The abduction of schoolgirls in Nigeria is shocking and deserves an urgent global response.

Their parents, teachers and friends continue to demand their release.

Meanwhile, reports are circulating that the girls have been sold as brides and trafficked as sex slaves across Nigeria’s borders.

In Nigeria and elsewhere, parents and protesters took to the streets, demanding answers and action.

There has been a deluge of posts on social media, demanding the girls’ urgent and unconditional release.

The hashtags, #BringBackOurGirls and #BringBackOurDaugthers, are spreading around the globe.

The girls were targeted for the simple reason that they were exercising their right to education. They were kidnapped by the Islamist group, Boko Haram.

Attacks against children and the targeting of schools cannot be justified under any circumstances and should be condemned by all.

Girls and young women belong in school and should stay there without fear of violence, so they can play their rightful roles as equal citizens of the world. Schools must remain places of safety and security, where children can learn and grow in peace.

Women and girls have the right to live free from intimidation, persecution and all other forms of discrimination and to participate fully and equally in public and civic life.

We must not allow extremists to trample these rights and take our societies backwards.

We stand with people worldwide who believe that every person is equal in inherent worth, dignity and human rights. We stand with the families of the girls.

If we do not respond effectively, those who prey on women and girls will be emboldened to continue their crimes. The world must come together and make every possible effort to rescue these girls, bring their captors to justice, and do everything in its power to prevent this from happening again.

* Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka andBabatunde Osotimehin are executive directors of UN Women and UN Population Fund respectively.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.

The Star