The Nobel Committee bestowed this year’s prestigious Peace Prize to an unlikely duo: a Pakistani child education activist, 17-year-old Malala Yousufzai, and a champion of child rights from neighboring India, 60-year-old Kailash Satyarthi. At first glance, one notices different achievements as well as a considerable age gap. However, a closer look at their lives reveals convergent struggles undertaken by both Nobel laureates.
Malala hails from the Swat valley in Pakistan. She came into the limelight as an 11-year-old, when her blogs were published by the BBC about life under the Taliban. The militants opposed girls’ education, and her writings were published under a pseudonym. Later, Malala was featured in a documentary about the life of children under the radicals and was nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize by Desmond Tutu. She continued to write in support of girls’ education, and that is why she was shot by the Taliban in 2012. Though she miraculously survived, and faces continued threats to her life, she now lives in England. Today, Malala is the leading campaigner for universal free education in the world. At a time when militant Islamists are wreaking havoc in the Middle East and waging a long-standing insurgency in Afghanistan, Malala symbolizes the progressive face of the majority of Muslims in the world.
Kailash Satyarthi’s is not a common name in India or globally, but his work has impacted the lives of thousands of children. Through his Bachpan Bachao Andolan (Save the Childhood Movement) founded in 1980, some 80,000 children have been freed from the grips of forced labor and have been transitioned into safe educational environments. Satyarthi calls himself a Gandhian, and he has received many international awards that recognize his efforts for child rights. His work as an activist, spanning more than three decades, highlights the struggle against child labor in India.
Besides the similarities in the personal achievements of both individuals, as development practitioners, we believe it is pertinent to understand the implications of the Nobel Prize in the broader developmental issues facing India and Pakistan.
First, the prize certainly seems to be a deliberate move by the Nobel Committee to encourage better relations between the two countries. India and Pakistan have fought four wars, and in the past decade have twice come close to another one. Since the early 1970s, both have spent billions in creating and maintaining nuclear arms, which neither can use without assuring mutual destruction. Even when the Nobel Prize was announced, there was an exchange of gunfire in the disputed region of Kashmir, which has killed nearly 20 civilians and a dozen soldiers on both sides. It is hoped that two brave individuals from India and Pakistan, celebrated side by side on a global platform, will inspire movement toward peace in both countries.
Second, Satyarthi’s and Malala’s work for child rights will serve as a platform for both countries to converse and converge. There are many other organizations similar to Satyarthi’s working for child rights in India, and the new government seems committed to implementing the country’s policies on child welfare. Pakistan has a Child Rights Movement (CRM) made up of 100 like-minded organizations working for the protection and promotion of child rights.
Third, India’s and Pakistan’s collaboration for child rights will tremendously boost the global struggle for child development. Today, millions of children are falling into child labor, trafficking, early marriage, violence and sexual abuse throughout the world. The subcontinent is rife with street children who work as street vendors and in other hazardous occupations, and most will never step inside a classroom. The struggle to globally prioritize the welfare of children is the collective responsibility of India and Pakistan — each having more than 50 percent of its population below age 30.
In the age of globalization, interdisciplinary and cross-cultural learning is an integral component to address chronic underdevelopment challenges. The free flow of knowledge, practices and technologies is an essential tool to help millions of people rise out of poverty. There are many examples, such as the cheap laptops designed in the United States, manufactured in China and distributed by nongovernmental organizations funded by the European Union that are educating thousands of children and youths in Afghanistan, Paraguay, Madagascar and India.
It is heartening to see that the Nobel laureates have taken the first steps for peace and improved relations by inviting the prime ministers of both nations to attend the prize ceremony in December. We hope further collaborations — governmental and private — will continue.
Even with the current blame game between India and Pakistan over the crossfire in Kashmir, we remain optimistic. As Malala has said: “This is not the end, it is merely the beginning.”
Faris Kasim and Amrita Vijay Jain, from Pakistan and India, respectively, are graduate students at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs.