Malala, Satyarthi stand together for child rights at Nobel ceremony

11 Dec 2014


They came from lands that had fought at least three full-blown wars against each other, and are still inimical to each other - an older man and a high school student divided by faith and generations; he a Hindu, she a Muslim; he aged 60, she 17.

Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Yousafzai were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize 2014But Pakistani girl education activist Malala Yousafzai – shot in the head by the Pakistani Taliban in 2012 - and Indian child rights campaigner Kailash Satyarthi united on Wednesday to jointly receive the Nobel Peace Prize awards from the Norwegian Nobel Committee in a vast and ornate chamber at the Oslo City Hall before an audience of royals, dignitaries, family members and others.

The Nobel committee described both laureates as "champions of peace".

Yousafzai in her acceptance speech said the Nobel Prize ''is not just for me.''

Saying she was honoured to be the youngest person to receive the award, She dedicated it to the ''voiceless.''

''It is for those forgotten children who want education,'' she continued. ''It is for those frightened children who want peace. It is for those voiceless children who want change.''

Yousafzai became the youngest recipient of the prize since it was first awarded in 1901, adding to an extraordinary tally of accolades including visits with President Obama and with Queen Elizabeth II and an address to the United Nations (See: Pak teenager Malala gets top EU human rights award and 'Shoot me, but first listen to me': Malala at World Bank). 

''Her courage is almost indescribable,'' Thorbjorn Jagland, the chairman of the Nobel Committee, told those at the ceremony.

If their shared award ''can contribute to bringing Indians and Pakistanis, two people so near to one another and yet so distant, closer to one another, this would add an extra dimension to the prize,'' Jagland added.

Standing side by side to receive medals and diplomas, the two winners drew a standing ovation from the audience before them.

In his speech to the gathering, Satyarthi, speaking alternately in Hindi and in English, declared that he represented ''the sound of silence, the cry of innocence, and the face of invisibility.''

''I have come here to share the voices and dreams of our children, because they are all our children,'' he said.  ''There is no greater violence than to deny the dreams of our children.''

He added, ''I refuse to accept that the shackles of slavery can ever be stronger than the quest for freedom,'' he added. ''The single aim of my life is that every child is free to be a child.''

He continued, ''We live in an age of rapid globalization. We are connected through high-speed internet. We exchange goods and services in one single global market. Thousands of flights every day connect us to every corner of the globe.

''But there is one serious disconnect. It is the lack of compassion,'' he said. ''Let us globalize compassion.''

Yousafzai, who studies at Edgbaston High School for Girls in Birmingham, England, said she had brought with her five other teenage girls from Pakistan, Nigeria and Syria. ''Though I appear as one girl, one person who is 5 foot 2 inches tall - if you include my high heels - I am not a lone voice. I am many,'' she said.

She said she would spend her share of the prize money on building schools in Pakistan.

''This is where I will begin, but it is not where I will stop,'' she said. ''I will continue this fight until I see every child in school.''

She added, ''Why is it that countries which we call so strong are so powerful in creating wars but so weak in bringing peace? Why is it that giving guns is so easy but giving books is so hard? Why is it that making tanks is so easy, but building schools is so hard?''

Even before the ceremony, Yousafzai and Satyarthi seemed intent on using the occasion not simply as a platform for acknowledgment of their achievements, but also as a podium from which to renew their campaigns.

''We are not here just to accept our award, get this medal and go back home,'' Yousafzai told a news conference on the eve of the ceremony. ''We are here to tell children, especially, that you need to stand up. You need to speak up for your rights. It is you who can change the world.

''In this world, if we are thinking we are modern and have achieved so much development,'' she said on Tuesday, ''then why is it that there are so many countries where children are not asking for any iPad or computer or anything? What they are asking for is just a book, just a pen, so why can't we do that?''

Satyarthi, who has struggled to free child labourers, said, ''This prize is important for the millions and millions who are denied a childhood. There are children who are sold and bought like animals.

''There are children who are born and live in situations of conflict and terror,'' he added, referring to Ms. Yousafzai as ''the bravest child we can think of''.

Satyarthi said receiving the prize was "a great opportunity" to further his work against child slavery.

Ms Yousafzai and Mr Satyarthi received their awards from the chairman of the Norwegian Nobel committee, in the presence of King Harald V of Norway.

It was a day when Indian saris and Pakistani shalwar kameez blended with finely cut Western suits.

It was a moment when the best of musical traditions from East and West filled the elegant Oslo Town Hall - a stirring Raga for Peace, South Asian Qawwali, and a haunting rendition of Oh Holy Night.

But the voices which resonated most loudly were those of the Nobel Laureates.

Kailash Satyarthi ended his Nobel lecture with "Let us March!" and Malala Yousafzai declared "Let us begin today!" Both see one of the world's most distinguished honours as a weapon in their fight for every child's right to be educated, and not to work in childhood.

Nobel organisers say there have never been such standing ovations or so many accredited journalists. But will this prize do more to achieve the goals it has honoured - to champion children's rights?

Indian and Pakistani leaders congratulated the laureates.

Pakistani radio quoted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif as saying: "The dream of Malala regarding girls' education shall be realised."

His Indian counterpart Narendra Modi tweeted, "The entire nation watches the ceremony in Oslo with great joy & immense pride. Congratulations @k_satyarthi!

"I also congratulate the young Malala Yousafzai for the momentous achievement."

Through the efforts of Mr Satyarthi,  tens of thousands of children have been rescued from hazardous industries. He has endured death threats for his work, and two of his colleagues were killed.

Yousafzai and Satyarthi have split the $1.4 million prize money.

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