Award ceremony speech


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Presentation Speech by Thorbjørn Jagland, Chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Oslo, 10 December 2014.

Thorbjørn Jagland, Chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, delivering the Presentation Speech at the Nobel Peace Prize Award Ceremony.

Thorbjørn Jagland, Chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, delivering the Presentation Speech at the Nobel Peace Prize Award Ceremony.

Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

A conscience exists in the world which extends beyond all national boundaries, and is independent of religion, culture and social adherence:  it states that children have a right to childhood; they have a right to go to school instead of being forced to work. They are not to start life as the slaves of others.

This “world conscience” can find no better expression than through Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Yousafzai.

Dear Nobel Prize Laureates,

A stronger expression of Alfred Nobel’s appeal for fraternity between nations would be difficult to find except through you two.

We are honoured to have you here.


The road to democracy and freedom is paved with knowledge.

Taliban and IS dislike knowledge because they know that it is an important condition for freedom. Attendance at school, especially by girls, deprives Taliban, IS, Boko Haram and similar movements of power.

But nothing should be further from Islam than using suicide bombs against their co-religionists or shooting at a young girl whose only demand was to be allowed to go to school.

Violence and repression can not be justified in any religion. Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism and Buddhism protect life and can not be used to take lives.

The two whom we honour here today stand very firm on this point. They live according to a principle Mahatma Gandhi gave expression to. He said: “There are many purposes I would have died for. There are no purposes I would have killed for”.

Satyarthi and Yousafzai are precisely the people whom Alfred Nobel in his will calls “champions of peace”.

This they are not only behind a desk, but in practice.

Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, ladies and gentlemen,

Kailash Sathyarthi’s vision is quite simply to put an end to child labour. Since he abandoned a promising career as an electrical engineer in 1980, this has been Sathyarthi’s overriding aim. He has worked at several different levels to achieve it. At grass-root level he has achieved the release of some 80,000 children, sometimes in very dramatic circumstances. He has often been brutally attacked. It takes little fantasy to imagine the reaction when he and his co-workers go into worn-down factory premises round about in India to set the children free. Powerful interests have profited from child labour. They do not give up without a struggle. Satyarthi himself has adhered to non-violence.

The child labourers are not infrequently recruited by kidnapping, but are often also hired out by parents who cannot manage their debts. Enslavement to debt remains very widespread, not only in India but also in many other countries.

Satyarthi insists that it is not poverty that leads to child labour. Child labour maintains poverty, carrying it on from generation to generation

School attendance releases people from poverty.

Satyarthi has developed a model for how liberated children can be rehabilitated and provided with education. They must be provided with a basic education to enable them to some extent to function as normal citizens rather than as slaves. He has set up a number of different organizations which work both in India and internationally to fulfil children’s rights. Bachpan Bachao Andolan is perhaps his most important instrument, taking direct action to set children free.

Satyarthi’s struggle is marked by great inventiveness. Rugmark, established in 1994 (now Goodweave), is a striking example. It is an international consortium of representatives of countries which export and import rugs. We can all by simple means check that a rug has not been made by child labourers. A network of inspectors has been set up to ensure that the system works. The children get to go to school, and the adult workers earn a fair wage.

Exporters and importers pay a small fee to keep up this system of inspections and controls. Efforts are in hand to spread the scheme to other products often made by child labour, such as knitted goods and sports gear.

On the 17th of January 1998, Satyarthi embarked on his biggest project: The Global March Against Child Labour. Seven million children and adults took part in this march, which entered many different countries and regions. The march wound up at the ILO headquarters in Geneva. The following year the ILO convention against the worst forms of child labour was unanimously adopted. The convention has currently been ratified by 172 countries. No ILO convention has been ratified more quickly. ILO conventions 138 and 182, and the UN “Convention on the Rights of the Child”, now form the basis of the world-wide struggle against child labour and for education.

Much nevertheless remains to be done. There are roughly 60 million child labourers in India alone, most of them in farming. If the country were to ratify the two ILO conventions, that would be a big step in the right direction.

There are currently 168 million child labourers worldwide. In the year 2000, the figure was 78 million higher. In this, as in so many other areas, things are thus moving in the right direction, and often much faster than we think. Satyarthi indeed believes that child labour can be more or less eliminated in his own lifetime.

Everyone here shares that hope.

Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, ladies and gentlemen,

Malala Yousafzai is far and away the youngest Peace Prize Laureate of all time. Her story has nevertheless become known practically all over the world. When she was 11 or 12 she began under a pseudonym to write a blog for the BBC about what it was like to live in the Swat valley in northwest Pakistan, under heavy pressure from the Taliban and with only ambivalent support from the Pakistani authorities. The schools periodically had to close, especially girls’ schools.

Malala Yousafzai’s vision was clear right from the start.  Girls had a self-evident right to education.

Her courage is almost indescribable. We all know what happened on the 9th of October 2012, when Malala was 15. A gunman climbed into the school bus and asked for Malala. He fired three shots at her, injuring her most severely. Her life was saved, and she decided to continue her struggle for girls’ education, although Taliban have made no secret of their intention to try again.

Pakistan’s population numbers nearly 200 million. One quarter are between 5 and 16 years old. The nation’s constitution guarantees all these children free and compulsory education. But nearly half the 52 million do not go to school; a large majority of them are girls. And it is not just Taliban that seeks to keep the girls away from school. The authorities do so, too, having built schools without walls, without running water, and without toilets. And at least as important: indoctrination is sometimes more important than the skills and knowledge needed in order to cope in a modern world. The teachers, too, often lack the minimum qualifications needed.

Pakistani authorities have praised the award of the Peace Prize to Malala Yousafzai. The best gift they could give her would be dramatic improvements to the country’s education system.

That would benefit the whole of Pakistan.

Few things provide a larger economic and social yield than investments in girls’ education.

This logic applies all over the world. By placing the individual person at the centre of all politics, one will soon see that those “excluded” are not a burden and a threat, but an enormous unused resource. Here in Europe, too, such logic would work wonders. The problem here is not that children and adolescents receive no education or are obliged to work. Far too many find no use for their education or find no opportunities for work.

We need to leave this negative situation and instead give the younger generation the hope which is probably our strongest defence against extremism.

Young people must be able to see into the future instead of being trapped by dark thoughts and dark forces.

Ladies and gentlemen,

While it is in the nature of extremism to create enemies and frightening images, and to divide the world into us and them, the laureates show us something else:

A young girl and a somewhat older man, one from Pakistan and one from India, one Muslim, the other Hindu; both symbols of what the world needs: more unity. Fraternity between the nations!

The Laureates have underlined that if the prize can contribute to bringing Indians and Pakistanis, two people so near to one another and yet so distant, closer to one another, this would add an extra dimension to the prize.

We share this hope.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We need people like Satyarthi and Yousafzai to show that it helps to fight.

Few if any of us have had greater courage to live according to Mahatma Gandhi’s principle that “I accept only one tyrant in the world, and that is the still small voice within me”.

We others have perhaps become too accustomed to following the voices of others, pouring into our heads through the social media. We often forget to listen to our own voice, the one that talks to us about justice.

Freedom and justice have never been ceremonial. The world never progressed thanks to coldly calculating people. It advanced thanks to the efforts of people with warm hearts.

Your Majesties, ladies and gentlemen,

We live in an age in which the world, despite all the violence and extremism we see around us, is marked by an increasing humanity.

The author James Baldwin put it like this: “The people that once walked in darkness are no longer prepared to do so”.

This has become an irrevocable part of our common awareness.

Persons like Kailash Satiarthi and Malala Yousafzai have brought us there.

They show that it helps to resist. Even under the most difficult conditions.

Dear Nobel Prize Laureates,

You will for all the future form part of the row of gold that forms our Nobel history – the row of campaigning people. People who have created the “global conscience” of which we can all be the bearers – the call for freedom and justice.

The most important thing of all is to have children and young people set free!

Thank you for your attention.

Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 2014

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