Children’s Champions

This year’s Nobel Peace Prize, honoring the girls' education campaigner Malala Yousafzai and children's rights activist Kailash Satyarthi, recognized a global children's civil-rights struggle. But the sad fact is that children are doing more than adults to fight for their own rights.

LONDON – The British social reformer, Eglantyne Jebb, once noted that the only international language that the world understands is the cry of a child. Nearly a century after Jebb founded Save the Children, the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Malala Yousafzai, the 17-year-old campaigner for girls’ education, and child-labor opponent Kailash Satyarthi. The Nobel Committee thus recognized a global civil-rights struggle against child trafficking, child labor, child marriages, and discrimination against girls.

Given recent and ongoing conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Gaza, and South Sudan, which have devastated so many young lives, the Nobel committee had good cause to highlight children’s suffering. Schools, which should have been sanctuaries, have become military targets. Thousands of children in Syria and Iraq have been press-ganged into military service. Despite the efforts of United Nations relief agencies, the carnage this summer has created an additional one million child refugees.

The vulnerability of children was illustrated only too well six months ago, when the Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram (whose name means “Western education is a sin”) abducted 276 Nigerian schoolgirls. Even if all of the kidnapped girls are returned safely, as a truce between the group and Nigeria’s government stipulates, there are still 15 million children under the age of 14 worldwide who are forced to work, often in appallingly exploitative environments. A further ten million school-age girls are married off as child brides each year, while around 32 million girls are denied the right even to an elementary education.

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