Malala Yousafzai — the Pakistani teenager shot by the Taliban for promoting education for girls — celebrated her 16th birthday by demanding world leaders provide free compulsory schooling for every child.
In her first public speech from the podium at the UN to more than 1,000 youth leaders from over 100 countries, she called for “a global struggle against illiteracy, poverty and terrorism”.
“Let us pick up our books and our pens. They are our most powerful weapons,” Malala said. “One child, one teacher, one book, and one pen can change the world. Education is the only solution. Education first.”
Malala, who wore a shawl that she said belonged to slain Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto, called herself just one of thousands of victims of the Taliban.
She said the bullet that entered the left side of her forehead last October, which the extremists thought would silence her, had not dimmed her ambitions to promote peace, education, and prosperity.
She invoked Mahatma Gandhi and other global advocates of non-violence stressing that “I’m not against anyone, neither am I here to speak in terms of personal revenge against the Taliban, or any other terrorist group.”
“I’m here to speak about the right of education for every child,” she said. “I want education for the sons and daughters of all the Taliban and all the terrorists and extremists. I do not even hate the Talib who shot me.”
But her main focus was on the 57m children who are not in school. The UN designated yesterday ‘Malala Day’, and there were cheers, standing ovations, and a round of ‘Happy Birthday’.
But she said: “Malala Day is not my day. Today is the day of every woman, every boy and every girl who have raised their voice for their rights.”
Unesco and Save the Children released a reported entitled Children Battling To Go To School, ahead of her speech.
It found that 95% of the 28.5m children who aren’t getting a primary school education live in low and lower-middle income countries — 44% in sub- Saharan Africa, 19% in south and west Asia, and 14% in the Arab states.
Girls make up 55% of the total and are often the victims of rape and other sexual violence that accompanies conflicts.
The study found that in 2012 there were more than 3,600 documented attacks on education, including violence, torture, and intimidation against children and teachers resulting in death or grave injuries, as well as the shelling and bombing of schools.
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