The 2014 Nobel Peace Prize Winners Risked Their Lives For Children And Education

In 1895, Alfred Nobel instructed via his will that most of his fortune be set aside to award monetary prizes in six key areas. The first Nobel Prize was awarded in 1901, six years later. This past December, two people from very different backgrounds shared the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize. The common theme between the 60-year-old man and 17-year-old girl was their dedication to children and education, and both have made a global impact at great risk to their lives.

In 1980, 26-year-old Kailash Satyarthi left a successful career as an electrical engineer to fight for the welfare of the millions of child laborers in his native India. Rampant poverty has left children vulnerable to factory owners, who often use middlemen to kidnap children and force them to work in deplorable conditions. He started Bachpan Bachao Andolan (“Save Childhood Movement”) and began a grassroots campaign. He led risky raids, literally storming the factories and freeing children guarded by armed men. Years later, he would create rehabilitation centers for the rescued children, where they receive an education and skills. Nearly 80,000 children have benefited from his efforts.

His devotion has been met with threats of death, incarceration, and two murdered colleagues. Satyarthi believes that child labor is the root cause of “poverty, unemployment, illiteracy, population explosion, and many other social evils.” In 2012, he successfully pushed for a law that made it illegal to employ children under the age of 14. He has expanded his efforts to 140 countries via his Global March Against Child Labour movement.

The same year that Satyarthi heralded the child labor law, 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai was already a well-seasoned activist in neighboring Pakistan. The Taliban had taken control in her tourist town in the country’s Swat Valley when she first publicly spoke about the right to an education at age 11 in Peshawar, Pakistan. The next year she started blogging under a pseudonym on the BBC’s website, where she wrote about living under the Taliban and their threats to education. By the age of 14, she had been nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize and won Pakistan’s National Youth Peace Prize.

As Yousafzai’s profile rose, so did the Taliban’s threats. On October 9, 2012, a gunman boarded the bus she was riding home from school. Yousafzai recovered for six months in Birmingham, England. She and her family remain there, still under threat from the Taliban, and Yousafzai continues to advocate for education. She spoke at the United Nations, published an autobiography at 16, and is the youngest person to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Yousafzai share the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize “for their struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education.”

Image source: Ken Opprann © The Nobel Foundation