OSLO, Norway (AP) – Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan and Kailash Satyarthi of India jointly won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for risking their lives to fight for children’s rights. The decision made Malala, a 17-year-old student and education activist, the youngest-ever Nobel winner.
Malala was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman two years ago in Pakistan for insisting that girls also have the right to an education. Surviving several operations with the help of British medical care, she continued both her activism and her studies.
Appropriately, she was in school at the time of the Nobel announcement and was expected to make a statement later Friday.
Satyarthi, 60, has been at the forefront of a global movement to end child slavery and exploitative child labour since 1980, when he gave up his career as an electrical engineer. The grassroots activist has led the rescue of tens of thousands of child slaves and developed a successful model for their education and rehabilitation. He has also survived several attempts on his life.
“This is an honour for all my fellow Indians, as well as an honour for all those children in the world whose voices were never heard before properly,” Satyarthi told India’s NDTV network.
While Malala was at the Edgbaston High School for girls in Birmingham, a central English city where she lives with her family, her father, Ziauddin Yousufzai, said the decision will further the rights of girls.
“(The Nobel will) boost the courage of Malala and enhance her capability to work for the cause of girls’ education,” he told The Associated Press.
The Nobel committee’s announcement reflected a delicate diplomatic balance, naming one activist from Pakistan and another from India, two countries that are long-time bitter rivals; one Muslim and one Hindu; both sexes; an elder statesman of child’s rights and a youthful advocate who had herself been a victim.
Committee chairman Thorbjoern Jagland said it was important to reward both an Indian Hindu and a Pakistani Muslim for joining “in a common struggle for education and against extremism.” The two will split the Nobel award of $1.1 million.
By highlighting children’s rights, the committee widened the scope of the peace prize, which in its early days was given for efforts to end or prevent armed conflicts.
“It is a prerequisite for peaceful global development that the rights of children and young people be respected,” the committee said. “In conflict-ridden areas in particular, the violation of children leads to the continuation of violence from generation to generation.”
Raised in Pakistan’s ruggedly beautiful, politically volatile Swat Valley, Malala was barely 11 years old when she began championing girls’ education, speaking out in TV interviews. The Taliban had overrun her home town of Mingora, terrorizing residents, threatening to blow up girls’ schools, ordering teachers and students into the all-encompassing burqas.
She was critically injured on Oct. 9, 2012, when a Taliban gunman boarded her school bus and shot her in the head. She survived through luck – the bullet did not enter her brain – and by the quick intervention of British doctors visiting Pakistan.
Flown to Britain for specialist treatment at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, she underwent numerous surgeries but made a strong recovery. Malala now lives with her father, mother and two brothers in Birmingham. She has been showered with human rights prizes, including the European Parliament’s Sakharov Award.
Soon after the news that Malala had won the Nobel Peace Prize, people celebrated on the streets of Mingora, the main town of Swat valley, greeting each other and distributing sweets. Similar scenes were playing out at the Khushal Public school, owned by Malala’s father, where students were jumping and dancing in jubilation.
The Nobel committee said Satyarthi was carrying on the tradition of another great Indian, Mahatma Gandhi.
“Showing great personal courage, Kailash Satyarthi, maintaining Gandhi’s tradition, has headed various forms of protests and demonstrations, all peaceful, focusing on the grave exploitation of children for financial gain,” the committee said.
A well-known sociologist in India said the award this year would have a great impact on children’s lives in his country.
“The world has come to recognize the extremely difficult situation in which a large number of children live in India, supporting themselves and their families by engaging in hazardous jobs,” said Dr A.N.S. Ahmed. “The award will have a deep impact not just on the Indian government but also on civil society, to work with passion and improve the condition of children by enforcing their rights.”
The founder of the Nobel Prizes, Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel, said the prize committee should give the prize to “the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.”
The committee has interpreted those instructions differently over time, widening the concept of peace work to include efforts to improve human rights, fight poverty and clean up the environment.
“The struggle against suppression and for the rights of children and adolescents contributes to the realization of the “fraternity between nations” that Alfred Nobel mentions in his will,” the committee said.
Former Indian diplomat Lalit Mansingh praised the Nobel committee’s choice this year.
“(They are) conscious of helping in conflict resolution. The award, especially at a time when India-Pakistan relations are under stress, is a nice gesture,” he said.
The Nobel Prizes in medicine, chemistry, physics and literature were announced earlier this week. The economics award will be announced on Monday.
All awards will be handed out on December 10, the anniversary of Nobel’s death in 1896.