On Wednesday, 17-year-old Malala Yousafzai, whose heroic defense of a young woman’s right to an education led to her near-fatal shooting by the Taliban, became the youngest person in history to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.
At the ceremony in Oslo, Norway, Yousafzai declared that the award was not just to honor her but for those “forgotten children who want education. It is for those frightened children who want peace. It is for those voiceless children who want change. I am here to stand up for their rights, raise their voice. It is not time to pity them. It is time to take action so it becomes the last time that we see a child deprived of education.”
Why is it that countries which we call so strong are so powerful in creating wars but so weak in bringing peace? Why is it that giving guns is so easy but giving books is so hard? Why is it that making tanks is so easy, but building schools is so hard?”
Yousafzai, who first gained notoriety for her support of education for girls after she began writing a diary about her daily life for the BBC, became famous worldwide in October 2012 when a Taliban gunman in Pakistan’s Swat Valley boarded her school bus and shot her in the head. She was flown out of the country for medical care and now attends school in the United Kingdom, as do two classmates also wounded in the attack.
She shared the Nobel Peace Prize with 60-year-old Indian child rights activist Kailash Satyarthi, founder of Bachpan Bachao Andolan (Save the Childhood Movement), credited since it began in 1980 with protecting the rights of 80,000 children. It is described as “the largest grassroots movement against child labor, child trafficking and child servitude,” while working to provide “free and compulsory, meaningful education for all children.”
The symbolism of a shared award to a Pakistani and an Indian, one Muslim and one Hindu, was not lost on the Nobel committee. Its chair, Thorbjorn Jagland, said that if the prize “can contribute to bringing Indians and Pakistanis, two people so near to one another and yet so distant, closer to one another, this would add an extra dimension to the prize.”
In his speech, Kailash Satyarthi told the audience, “I refuse to accept that the world is so poor when just one week of military expenditures can bring all children to classrooms. I refuse to accept that all the laws and constitutions and police and judges are unable to protect our children. I refuse to accept that shackles of slavery can ever be stronger than the quest for freedom.”