Last October, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan and Kailash Satyarthi of India – both indefatigable advocates for children’s rights.  In Friday’s announcement in Oslo, the Nobel Committee cited the recipients “struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education.”

In bestowing this year’s Peace Prize on these two inspiring advocates, the Nobel Committee reaffirms
the much needed expansive definition of peace – of positive peace, not simply characterized by the
absence of war, but by the presence of the broad spectrum of human rights.  As the Nobel committee noted, “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.”

Breaking free from generational cycles of violence, whether in small communities or whole societies,
requires more than the cessation of hostilities brought about by negotiated settlements.   Indeed the all too frequent relapse into violence of conflicts with signed “peace agreements” is a testimony to this challenge.  Positive peace – peace created by repaired relationships and respect for the broad spectrum of human rights – is the only sure way of fundamentally transforming violent conflict.

The work of Malala and Kailash highlights how our world still falls short of protecting one of the most
fundamental human rights, the rights of children to education in an environment free of fear and exploitation.   Whether we live and work in conflict-affected societies such as Pakistan’s tribal areas, or in more stable democracies such as India or the U.S., these rights remain an unfulfilled promise for far too many children.

Twenty-seven years ago, this concern for the future of children led all of the living Nobel Peace Laureates to issue a call, known as the “Appeal of the Nobel Peace Laureates for Peace and Nonviolence for the Children of the World” which inspired much global activism, including the founding of the Peace Appeal Foundation itself.   In the intervening years, there has been much progress on multiple fronts, including 78 million fewer child laborers in the past 10 years alone, and an estimated 50% reduction in the number of girls not attending primary school between 1999 and 2009. Still much remains to be done to realize the aspirations of the Laureates  Appeal.   Child soldiers remain a particularly disturbing trend, with young children being used in multiple conflicts across the globe, most recently in Libya and Syria.

This year’s Nobel Peace Prize underscores how individuals, whether a 17 year old Pakistani school girl or a 60 year old social entrepreneur from India, can make a difference for thousands of children globally.  At a time when peace may seems ever more elusive and conflicts abroad too remote for us to influence, Malala Yousafzai and Kailash Satyarthi should remind us that we can all be agents of change.


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