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Nobel panel chooses novel route to peace

In awarding this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, the selection committee reached across a tired and bitter divide. It split the honor between a Pakistani teenager, Malala Yousafzai, and an Indian activist, 60-year-old Kailash Satyarthi.

The winners’ homelands have been in conflict since 1947, when partition created two separate nations.

Tensions continue today, particularly in the disputed border region of Kashmir.

Yousafzai, a Muslim, and Satyarthi, who is Hindu, are united by their quests to improve the lives of children. In dividing the prize between them, the Norwegian Nobel Committee has prodded people across the world to embrace their common humanity.

Bettering the lot of children is a means of transcending political and religious differences. It can also help dilute the forces of extremism.

Though only 17, Yousafzai is by far the better known of the two prize winners. In 2012, a would-be Taliban assassin boarded her school bus and fired a bullet into her head, very nearly killing her.

In her hometown of Mingora, she had been an outspoken advocate for the education of girls since the age of 11. At the time, Taliban extremists were terrorizing residents and threatening girls’ schools with destruction.

Satyarthi has been involved for decades in efforts to end child slavery and exploitive child labor practices. His Save the Childhood Movement is credited with helping to rescue tens of thousands of children from harsh working conditions, bondage and sexual trafficking.

India and Pakistan are far from the only countries where children are abused, or denied the opportunity to thrive.

Over the past year, too many have suffered the horrors of war and violence, in places as diverse as Syria, Gaza and Nigeria. As the Nobel committee noted, such children grow up in danger of perpetuating the horrors they have witnessed.

Education and the chance for useful work can halt the cycle.

Yousafzai was saved by doctors in Great Britain, and has remained there, in school, since she was attacked. She has also continued her now-global crusade for education. She was in chemistry class when it was announced that she had won the prize, and elected to complete her school day before addressing the media.

“This award is for all those children who are voiceless,” she noted, stressing the right of girls and boys alike to go to school.

“A lot of work still remains, but I will see the end of child labor in my lifetime,” Satyarthi predicted.

By elevating the rights of children, the Nobel committee has laid out a novel but compelling route to peace.

— The Providence

(Rhode Island) Journal