Malala Yousafzai and Indian child rights activist share Nobel

A 17-year-old Pakistani girl who survived a Taliban gunshot to the head for her advocacy of female education became Friday the youngest ever recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, winning alongside an Indian advocate for ending child labor.

Malala Yousafzai, who has become a global spokeswoman for the rights of children after her long recovery, was awarded the prize just a day after the second anniversary of the attack on her in Pakistan’s Swat Valley.

Co-winner, 60-year-old Kailash Satyarthi, has been a longtime crusader against child slavery, and is credited with saving tens of thousands of lives.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee praised Yousafzai and Satyarthi “for their struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education.”

By awarding the prize to two advocates for children — one Indian, the other Pakistani – the committee hoped to send a powerful message not only about children’s rights, but also about its hopes for peace on the South Asian subcontinent. In recent days, the two nations have exchanged fire over a disputed border region in some of the most serious clashes in years.

“What we are saying is that we have awarded two people with the same cause, coming from India and Pakistan, a Muslim and a Hindu. It is in itself a strong signal,” Thorbjorn Jagland, chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, told reporters following the announcement.

Of the two winners, Yousafzai is far better known globally.

Yousafzai, the first Nobel winner to have been born in an independent Pakistan, became a worldwide symbol of Taliban abuses after she wascritically injured in a 2012 attack by militants who stormed the bus she was riding with other students. At the time of the attack, she was already known across Pakistan for daring to defy the militant group by speaking out against the group’s policy of denying education to girls.

Rather than shrink from further Taliban threats after her recovery, she instead expanded her advocacy work, writing a best-selling book, and giving addresses at major international gatherings, including at the United Nations.

“They thought that the bullets would silence us, but they failed,” Yousafzai said in her U.N. speech. “And then, out of that silence, came thousands of voices.”

Her appeals, however, have angered militants and others in her native country. Some in Pakistan have feared that a high-profile award like the Nobel will only antagonize the Taliban and trigger further violence. Yousafzai herself has been forced to live in exile in Britain since her recovery.

Nonetheless, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Friday called Yousafzai the “pride of Pakistan.”

“She has made her countrymen proud,” Sharif said. “Her achievement is unparalleled and unequalled. Girls and boys of the world should take the lead from her struggle and commitment.”

Satyarthi is less of a global figure, but has long been celebrated in India. In making the announcement, Jagland credited Satyarthi with “maintaining Gandhi’s tradition” by leading “various forms of protests and demonstrations, all peaceful, focusing on the grave exploitation of children for financial gain.”

Jagland said there are 168 million child laborers in the world today, but noted that figure is down 78 million from 2000.

Satyarthi has fought against child labor more than two decades and is credited with helping free tens of thousands of children from harsh work conditions and other forms of forced labor, including in the carpet industry and traveling circuses popular in India.

That work has prompted a backlash. There have been attempts on Satyarthi’s life, and his home was ransacked and his office in New Delhi set on fire in 1994.

“Even as a child, I was passionate about issues related to child labor,” Satyarthi said in an interview with the Times of India this summer. “On my first day of school, I saw a child of my age sitting on the doorsteps of my school along with his father. They were cobblers. It was the first time that I saw a contrast in the lives of two kids. I asked my teacher, we are sitting in the classroom and that boy is sitting outside, working. Why is that?”

Following the announcement, Satyarthi said he was “delighted” by the award, which he described as “recognition of our fight for child rights.”

“I am thankful to the Nobel committee for recognizing the plight of millions of children who are suffering in this modern age,” he said.

The selection of Yousafzai and Satyarthi comes during a tumultuous year that has seen new conflicts emerge and old ones expand.

A proxy war in eastern Ukraine between Russia and the West has left more than 3,500 people dead and a country dismembered, all while raising fears of a new Cold War.

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