IT’S now two years since the 276 Chibok girls were abducted by Boko Haram from their school in northern Nigeria. Other than a few who escaped, the Chibok girls have not been rescued or returned. It is unfathomable for those of us living in the West to consider that your child could be abducted from school for the purposed ‘crime’ of seeking an education, or that girls, by sole virtue of their gender should be denied this. The pain suffered by the parents who wanted the best for their children and sent them to school never to return is unimaginable. What has become of the Chibok girls during the past two years, remains largely unknown.

Last month I travelled to Nigeria with the International Development Select Committee to meet with the Bring Back Our Girls campaigners whose tireless work keeps the Chibok girls’ memory alive. We visited schools that have dared to re-open since this atrocity occurred and spoke with politicians including the newly-elected vice president about the current status of girls’ education in Nigeria and the continued fight against the extremism of Boko Haram.

Arriving in northern Nigeria, security intensified significantly for our group, we had security briefings, were transported in armoured vehicles, had body armour fitted and were protected by armed guards.

We visited two schools in the Kano district, one a state school and another run by the local church. Both were co-educational though it was difficult to fathom whether the curriculum for boys and girls differed. We were told that early marriage remains the norm for girls in the north of the country due to both cultural and religious beliefs, which interfered with the length of girls’ education and therefore the intrinsic value for parents of sending them to school at all.

Millions of children were still not recorded as being in school. Those who were, experienced overcrowded classrooms of 100 plus children. There were significant problems for the government in providing quality of education, due to lack of teacher training and resources. Cultural beliefs, security issues and lack of future opportunity present ongoing barriers to sending girls to school.

Those girls that we did meet from primary to secondary levels, wanted to learn, had aspiration and voiced ambitions of becoming hairdressers, nurses, teachers and doctors. It was very depressing that despite ability and ambition, they were unlikely to realise their dreams.

Meeting with the Bring Back Our Girls Campaigners in Abuja, was one of those moments in life that grounds you. They have been campaigning for the return of the Chibok girls for almost two years, and pledge to keep the girls’ memory alive outside of parliament until they return.

Realistically, hopes are slim. The government reported no new leads and we were told it is highly likely that many of the girls have been married off to Boko Haram soldiers, incurred sexual violence or even been killed.

Meeting with government officials in Nigeria was equally sobering. A new government has heralded renewed efforts to tackle the country’s problems, including corruption to the highest levels of society and attempts to address inequality. However, what was stark was the lack of female representation in parliament, which has actually reduced since this government came to power. Equality issues do not appear to be high on the agenda and without concerted efforts to increase women’s representation at all levels of society, it is difficult to see how culture will shift and the lot of young girls within Nigeria be significantly altered.

The Chibok girls who were abducted hold the same value as girls across the world. It is hard for me to believe that if this had happened elsewhere more would not have been done to bring them back at an earlier stage.

The new government has reportedly increased effort to improve security and to tackle Boko Haram with some limited success so far. People we spoke to said they now feel more able to go out after six o’clock though security issues remain paramount. Some parts of north eastern Nigeria were completely off limits due to security risks, the population remains displaced and schools in these areas closed. There is a long road to tackle extremism in these areas, to offer alternative hope and to support the population out of poverty.

Pressure from international governments appears to have dissipated, but must be resurrected to give hope to the Chibok girls and to girls across Nigeria and the developing world. The parents we met despair, but will never give up hope for the return of their girls.

Lisa Cameron is the MP for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow