Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai on Thursday urged Burundi's government to release schoolchildren who were jailed for doodling on photos of President Pierre Nkurunziza, saying the country's next generation would succeed in life only by acquiring an education.
Burundian authorities in May jailed the students for defacing the photos of the president, whose decision last year to run for another term spun the country into violent protests.
"These children should be in school, not in jail,'' Malala told The Associated Press in an interview. She spoke during a visit to Burundian refugees at a camp in neighboring Rwanda.
The refugees in the Mahama camp have fled the ongoing turmoil in Burundi, where Nkurunziza's government has been accused by rights groups of targeting opposition members. Peace talks this week were reported to be stalled.
The 19-year-old advocate for girls' education encouraged young refugees to never to give up on their ambitions. She told the story of how she was shot in 2012 as a student in Pakistan for speaking out for girls' education in a highly conservative culture.
"Be strong like me and never give up,'' she said.
More than 2,700 Burundian children at the camp, which holds more than 48,000 refugees, are not attending school.
"We want to study, go to university. We want to be like you in the future,'' said one girl, Solange Wihorimbere.
Malala said the refugee girls have no access to education because of insufficient funding, and she urged international donors to do more.