Oslo, Norway October 10. 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.
Malala, a 17-year-old student and education activist, is the youngest ever Nobel winner. She was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman two years ago for insisting that girls also have the right to an education.
Satyarthi, 60, has been at the forefront of a global movement to end child slavery and exploitative child labor 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 honor for all my fellow Indians, as well as an honor for all those children in the world whose voices were never heard before properly,” Satyarthi told India’s NDTV network.
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.
The Nobel Committee said it was an important point 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, 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.”
Malala was barely 11 years old when she began championing girls’ education in Pakistan, 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 currently lives with her father, mother and two brothers in Birmingham, attending a local school. She has been showered with human rights prizes, including the European Parliament’s Sakharov Award.
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.
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 choices this year.
“The Nobel committee is always aware of the international situation and is 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 Dec. 10, the anniversary of Nobel’s death in 1896.