OSLO – The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded jointly Friday to 17-year-old Pakistani Malala Yousafzai (pic, right), who survived being shot by the Taliban, and to India’s Kailash Satyarthi for their championing of children’s rights.
Malala, the youngest ever Nobel laureate, heard the news while in class at her school in Birmingham, England, where she moved from Pakistan to receive life-saving treatment two years ago.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee said the duo, who will share the $1.1 mn (874,000 euro) prize money, were chosen for struggling against repression of children and young people and for championing “the right of all children to education.”
Malala, who had fought for years for the right of girls to education in her strictly Muslim home region, leapt to global fame after a Taliban gunman got on her school bus in October 2012, asked “Who is Malala?” and shot her in the head.
Her campaign, the Nobel committee said, has been carried out “under the most dangerous circumstances.”
“Through her heroic struggle she has become a leading spokesperson for girls’ rights to education,” the committee said.
The selection of such a young winner was bound to be eye-catching, but another unusual aspect of this year’s prize was the choice of citizens from the hostile neighbours of India and Pakistan. Seventeen civilians have been killed in the last few days in the disputed Kashmir region, the worst violence for decades.
“The choice of winners shows that this is an issue that matters to us all, no matter what our age, gender, country or religion,” Amnesty International’s general secretary, Salil Shetty, said.
The laureates are expected to come to Oslo to pick up their prize on December 10.
Malala ‘pride’ of country
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif called Malala the “pride” of his country and said she would inspire children worldwide.
“She has made her countrymen proud. Her achievement is unparalleled and unequalled. Girls and boys of the world should take the lead from her struggle and commitment,” he told AFP in a statement.
Satyarthi, who founded a consumer campaign in the 1980s to combat child labour in the handmade carpet industry, said he was “delighted,” calling the Nobel prize “recognition of our fight for child rights”.
The low-profile, 60-year-old activist heads the Global March Against Child Labor, a combination of some 2,000 social groups and union organisations in 140 countries. He is credited with helping tens of thousands of children forced into slavery by businessmen, landowners and others to gain their freedom.
“Something which was born in India has gone global and now we have a global movement against child labour,” he told Indian television.
Satyarthi quickly discovered fame in the wake of his award. A social media minnow, with fewer than 200 followers on Twitter before the announcement, he had more than 4,500 followers less than two hours later.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, called the laureates “frontline human rights defenders” who “have demonstrated tremendous courage in the face of powerful adversaries.”
The head of the UN educational organization UNESCO also praised both winners, saying the awarding of the peace prize “sends out a resounding message to the world on the importance of education for building peaceful and sustainable societies.”
“Kailash Satyarthi is a close friend of UNESCO and has been at the forefront of the global movement to end child slavery and exploitative child labour since 1980,” UNESCO chief Irina Bokova said.
“Malala stands with us in the struggle for universal education, especially for girls,” she added.
Former British prime minister Gordon Brown, the UN special envoy for global education,called the peace prize laureates “the world’s greatest children’s champions.”
French President Francois Hollande praised Malala’s “immense courage” and Satyarthi’s “tireless action” on behalf of children’s rights.
The chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Thorbjoern Jagland, said Malala’s youth was not a factor in awarding the prize.
“Our consideration has been to highlight the young who have stood up…and the old who have worked for years against child labour and for children’s rights,” he said.
“We have noticed that she has received a long line of other prizes… The most important thing in the fight against extremism is to give young people hope,” he added.
Since her brush with death, Malala has become an international star. She received a standing ovation in July 2013 for an address to the United Nations General Assembly in which she vowed she would never be silenced.
She had been widely tipped to win the peace prize last year, which instead went to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
This year there was no clear frontrunner, with a Russian opposition newspaper, Tunisia’s democratic leadership, and Pope Francis among a record number of candidates. â€“ AFP