This year’s Nobel Peace Prize highlighted activism by and for children. Malala Yousafzai, 17, and Kailash Satyarthi, 60, jointly won the award for their work to protect children and support their rights to education.
Yousafzai is the youngest-ever recipient of the prize. Living in Pakistan, she was shot in the head at the age of 15 by the Taliban for advocating for girls’ education. Satyarthi, who has helped rescue thousands of children from slavery, protests the exploitation of children and advocates for their rights in India.
The Nobel committee particularly noted that a Muslim and Hindu were jointly awarded the prize “to join in a common struggle for education and against extremism.”
“Despite her youth, Malala Yousafzai has already fought for several years for the right of girls to education, and has shown by example that children and young people, too, can contribute to improving their own situations,” the Norwegian committee wrote in a release. “This she has done under the most dangerous circumstances. Through her heroic struggle she has become a leading spokesperson for girls’ rights to education.”
After advocating for girls’ education on television, Yousafzai was shot on Oct. 9, 2012, while on her school bus. She was rushed to England and spent weeks recovering as the world held vigil for a young girl who had stood up to the Taliban, one of the world’s most feared terrorist groups. Yousafzai recovered and marked her 16th birthday by addressing the United Nations. Her foundation, Malala Fund, has raised millions to support education efforts for girls.
The U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement that Yousafzai ”proved how one young woman can lead the way. With her courage and determination, Malala has shown what terrorists fear most: a girl with a book.”
Sharing the renowned prize, Satyarthi is a children’s rights advocate, one the committee likens to an international icon Mahatma Gandhi.
“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 wrote. “He has also contributed to the development of important international conventions on children’s rights.”
Satyarthi’s nonprofit, Bachman Bachao Andolan, has been rescuing trafficked children for 30 years. It is the leading organization to stop child trafficking and labor in the country, according to the Times of India.
He spoke out about the prize on Friday morning: “It’s a great honor for all those children who are deprived of their childhood globally, it’s an honor to all my fellow Indians who have got this honor. It’s not just an honor for me, it’s an honor for all those who were fighting against child labor globally. I may not be knowing them, but there are many people who are sacrificing their time and their life for the cause of child rights and I would like to thank and congratulate all of them because it’s symbolic for me. It’s not only me who could be credited for this prize, it’s for everyone who is fighting against child slavery in the world.”
Ki-moon also honored Satyarthi’s inspirational achievements in a statement.
“Thanks in large measure to Mr. Satyarthi’s heroic work, the world has moved from denial about abusive child labour to acknowledgement, awareness and action,” he said in a statement. “He has successfully brought together the key elements for success in the fight against the worst forms of child labour — moral outrage, personal commitment, and societal engagement.”
The Nobel committee noted that the number of child laborers around the world had fallen by millions over the last decade and a half, crediting the recipients and others for their progress. “The world has come closer to the goal of eliminating child labor,” they said.
President Barack Obama won the Peace Prize in 2009 for his promises to reign in war. Many balked at the award, as the president had just been in office for months and had not yet acted on his promises, but this year the committee went with recipients who had had direct, large-scale effects to reduce child slavery and advocate for children’s right to education.