The choice of Kailash Satyarthi of India and Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan as joint winners of the Nobel Peace Prize for 2014 can be seen as a win for child advocacy. Both recipients are passionate about children’s rights and it is wonderful that they have been given such a prestigious award. It is to be hoped that this indicates a new level of respect for those working hard to elevate advocacy voices for children everywhere.
Children’s rights activist Kalish Satyarthi was born in Vidisha, in Madhya Pradesh state in India and is now based in Delhi. Satyarthi, age 60, campaigns against all forms of child labour. In India such labour is often forced upon poor families by unscrupulous agents (including brothel and factory owners) who promise to allow them use their children to “work off debt” which can, with “interest”, turn into “sentences” lasting years. The result is children who are “locked in” to various forms of relentless, labour intensive work for hours a day and who are, consequently, unable to go to school, thus continuing the cycle of poverty. Satyarthi has also launched campaigns for rescuing girls sold into abusive, forced marriages. With dedicated colleagues he has rescued 80,000 young Indians over the last three decades (I was blown away by this figure, particularly when I think that the population of my home town, Dunedin, is 126,000).
Satyarthi, who has suffered from a multitude of serious injuries as a result of retaliation from groups opposed to his cause, hails the Nobel peace prize as “an honour to young people whose voices have never been heard.”
“It is a challenge definitely and I know that it is a long battle to fight, but slavery is unacceptable, it is a crime against humanity. I’m not talking in legal terms, morally I feel I cannot tolerate the loss of freedom of any single child… so I am a kind of restless person in that sense. We cannot accept this to happen.”
In a brief interview, he called for the “globalization of human compassion.”
(Sources: The Washington Post, Friday 10th October 2014; Jason Burke in The Guardian, Friday 10th October 2014).
Malala Yousafzai, aged 17, was born in the Swat Valley to the north west of the capital of Pakistan (Islamabad). When she was eleven, the Taliban, who had come to power in Swat a year or so earlier, began a campaign to blow up all government institutions. They focused their wrath on girls’ schools, which they said went against Islamic teachings. Malala’s school, operated by her father Ziauddin Yousafzai, was under constant threat. Malala gave a speech at the age of eleven, entitiled: “How Dare the Taliban Take Away My Basic Right to an Education?” Then, in January 2009, she wrote under a pseudonym for the BBC News blog, stating how things felt through the eyes of a Pakistani school girl. In 2011, when the Pakistani army had regained control of the Swat valley and things seemed safer, it was revealed that Malala was the BBC blogger. Malala had, by now, received global attention (not least for the strength of her convictions, despite her youth). The Taliban began threatening her family.
On October 1st 2012, when she was 15 years old, a masked gunman stopped Malala’s school bus and asked for her by name. None of the school girls answered, but some glanced at their classmate. The gunman then fired four rounds into the group of girls. Two other girls were injured and Malala was hit by a bullet which pierced the skin behind her left eye and the lodged in the muscle just above her shoulder blade. This attack provoked global outrage.
Support came for Malala from around the world and she received hospital treatment in Birmingham, England. Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari announced the establishment of a $10 million education fund in Malala’s name.
Malala had to have multiple surgeries as a result of the shooting and her recovery, without any brain injury, was miraculous.
“In trying to silence this Pakistani schoolgirl, the Taliban amplified her voice.” (Editors of TIME magazine, when Malala Yousafzai was nominated as runner up for the 2012 “person of the year”).
Malala is a very good orator. She gave a speech at the United Nations on her 16th birthday, in 2013, and she has also written an autobiography, I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban, which was released in October 2013. Unfortunately, the Taliban still considers her a target.
Despite the Taliban’s threats, Malala Yousafzai remains a staunch advocate for the importance of education for girls, as well as boys. Now 17 years old, Malala is the youngest person ever to have received the Nobel Peace Prize.
The Nobel Committee said Ms Yousafzai and Mr Satyarthi won the prize, “for their struggle against the suppression of children and young people, and for the right of all children to education.”
Some critics have argued that the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to these two recipients is against the wishes of the award’s creator, Swedish born Alfred Nobel, who wanted the prize to focus on world disarmament. In response to this it can be asked, aside from the actual removing of the weapons themselves, what other cause than promoting the rights of our planet’s children could be more conducive to promoting world peace? Children without education remain locked in a cycle of poverty which passes from generation to generation and can incite bitterness, violence and warfare. Children of illiterate mothers (regardless of the educational attainments of their father) have only a 2% chance of completing any formal training themselves– the education of our girls is very important.
Advocating for children means advocating for a better chance at peace and harmony in our future world. Such advocates, who have helped so many, deserve our respect and recognition. That Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Yousafzai have received this in the form of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize shows a step forward for all forms of advocacy for children.