Childhood, peace and development

October 13, 2014 12:50 am | Updated November 17, 2021 11:00 am IST

The >Nobel Peace prize for 2014 has been awarded to two South Asian activists in the field of child rights, Malala Yousafzai and Kailash Satyarthi. The first is a thoughtful and fearless teenager who, despite deadly opposition, >lit a path to learning and liberation for girls in Pakistan. The second is a 60-year old campaigner from India who has worked to liberate children from the shackles of compulsory labour and bondage. In choosing them, the Nobel Committee may appear to have chosen unusually. Malala is, at 17, the youngest Nobel Peace Prize winner ever, and Mr. Satyarthi a relatively unknown name outside the region and his field of work. However, the Committee’s choice has been hailed as both bold and necessary. It has sought to underscore a crucial but widely disregarded prerequisite for development and peace in our times, namely, the responsibility of nations to provide the means of formal education, leisure, safety, and care for all children. As this year’s citation says, “It is a prerequisite for peaceful global development that the rights of children and young people be respected. In conflict-ridden areas in particular, the violation of children leads to the continuation of violence from generation to generation.” Growing up in the Swat Valley of Pakistan under the brute rule of religious bigots opposed to education for girls, Malala grasped the link between school education — and particularly education for girls — and larger social change early in life. How an outspoken child fought a public campaign for the right to education, surviving even an attempt on her life, is well known. She continues to lead the battle for girls’ education from her current location in Birmingham in the United Kingdom.

>Mr. Satyarthi , a founder of Bachpan Bachao Andolan (Save Childhood Campaign), has led the rescue of over 78,500 children from bondage. He gave shape to the Global March Against Child Labour, a coalition of national campaign groups. He too sees education as the key instrument for the liberation of children from poverty, exploitation and neglect. In his pioneering work on child labour and school education in India, the late political scientist Myron Weiner wrote: “Modern states regard education as a legal duty, not merely a right: parents are required to send their children to school, children are required to attend school, and the state is obliged to enforce compulsory education ... This is not the view held in India. Primary education is not compulsory, nor is child labour illegal.” The Nobel Peace Prize this year recognises the crucial links among child rights, labour, and school education and, in doing so, recognises one of the most fundamental prerequisites of a better tomorrow for millions of children everywhere.

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