It’s often hard to live up to expectations of sainthood

OSLO: Alongside the glory, the Nobel Peace Prize has a darker side likely to make the awards committee think hard before honouring a Pakistani teenage activist shot by the Taliban. She is a favourite to win on Friday.

The prize has changed the lives of presidents, freedom fighters or humble human rights workers, but some winners say it is hard to be put on a lifelong pedestal where actions, flaws and foibles can get judged against a yardstick of sainthood.

This year, that flip side of fame is more relevant than ever because Malala Yousafzai, shot in the head by the Taliban a year ago for demanding education for girls, is just 16. All other winners have made career choices as adults. She would be half the age of the youngest winner of the award.

Geir Lundestad, who hosts and attends the meetings of the peace committee as director of the Norwegian Nobel Institute, says there is no age limit.

This year there are 259 nominees, but Yousafzai has been widely nominated. The committee of five whittles them down before picking a winner from a shortlist, which is not made public.

Jody Williams, who won a share of the prize as coordinator for the campaign to ban anti-personnel landmines in 1997, wrote in a 2013 autobiography that some imagine a Nobel Prize transforms winners “into something resembling a saintly creature.

Kristian Harpviken, head of the independent Peace Research Institute Oslo, said Yousafzai was his top pick for this year’s $1.25 million prize. “The main question about Malala is her age,” he said.

He said he believed the prize would only marginally affect the risks that Yousafzai, who is now in England, might again be a target for the Taliban. But he added: “The other aspect is of course to burden somebody, who is still basically a child, with having to carry the weight of a Nobel Prize for the rest of her life.”

Other candidates include Denis Mukwege, a Congolese gynaecologist who helps survivors of sexual violence, and Bradley Manning, a US soldier convicted of leaking secret files to WikiLeaks.

He said many people wrongly believed that getting nominated was a sign of endorsement by the committee. Yet, even Hitler once made it to the list.