Pakistani teenager Malala Yousafzai, who was shot in the head by the Taliban in 2012 for advocating girls’ right to education, and Indian children’s right activist Kailash Satyarthi won the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize on Friday.
Malala, aged 17, becomes the youngest Nobel Prize winner by far, and is the second Pakistani to win it, after Physicist Dr. Abdus Salam, who shared the 1979 Nobel Prize in Physics for his contribution to electroweak unification.
Satyarthi, 60, and Yousafzai were picked for their struggle against the oppression of children and young people, and for the right of all children to education, the Norwegian Nobel Committee said.
“The Nobel Committee regards it as an important point for a Hindu and a Muslim, an Indian and a Pakistani, to join in a common struggle for education and against extremism,” said Thorbjoern Jagland, the head of the Norwegian Nobel Committee.
Yousafzai was shot in the head by the Taliban in 2012 after campaigning for more access to education for girls and has since become recognisable worldwide.
Unable to return to Pakistan after her recovery, Yousafzai moved to Britain, setting up the Malala Fund and supporting local education advocacy groups with a focus on Pakistan, Nigeria, Jordan, Syria and Kenya.
Satyarthi, who gave up a career as an electrical engineer in 1980 to campaign against child labour, has headed various forms of peaceful protests and demonstrations, focusing on the exploitation of children for financial gain.
“It’s an honour to all those children still suffering in slavery, bonded labour and trafficking,” Satyarthi told CNN-IBN after learning he won the prize.
In a recent editorial, Satyarthi said that data from non-government organizations indicated that child labourers could number 60 million in India or 6 percent of the total population.
“Children are employed not just because of parental poverty, illiteracy, ignorance, failure of development and education programmes, but quite essentially due to the fact that employers benefit immensely from child labour as children come across as the cheapest option, sometimes working even for free,” he wrote.
Children are employed illegally and companies use the financial gain to bribe officials, creating a vicious cycle, he argued.
Yousafzai last year addressed the U.N. Youth Assembly in an event Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called “Malala Day”. This year she travelled to Nigeria to demand the release of 200 schoolgirls kidnapped by the Islamist group Boko Haram.
“To the girls of Nigeria and across Africa, and all over the world, I want to say: don’t let anyone tell you that you are weaker than or less than anything,” she said in a speech.
“You are not less than a boy,” Yousafzai said. “You are not less than a child from a richer or more powerful country. You are the future of your country. You are going to build it strong. It is you who can lead the charge.”
The award comes at a time when hostilies have broken out between India and Pakistan and the recongnition is being seen as a highly symbolic push to end a decades-old rivalry between the two nuclear-armed coutries.
Signalling a larger intent behind jointly awarding the prize, the Nobel Committee said it “regards it as an important point for a Hindu and a Muslim, an Indian and a Pakistani, to join in a common struggle for education and against extremism.”
For her part, Malala did not miss the significance of the moment, paying tribute to her co-winner anti-child labour activist Satyarthi and inviting Prime Minister Narendra Modi as well as his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif to celebrate their joint win.
(With input from agencies)