The Norwegian Nobel Committee received 278 nominations (including 47 organizations) for the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize, the most in history. Before the decision was announced last week, the media focused on Pope Francis and Edward Snowden, with the Pope the odds-on favorite.
Then the Committee announced that Malala Yousafzai and Kailash Satyarthi won the Prize for their work on the education and protection of children. It was historic because Malala is still a child, at age 17, and it is the first time that a Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded solely for the protection of children. Both of the recipients have been outspoken, tireless advocates for the education and rescue of children in the face of powerful forces in their societies, Malala in Pakistan and Satyarthi in India. To the West, the evil they face is “extremism,” but for them it is the status quo. The award has generated opposition to Malala in her homeland, where there were celebrations when she was shot two years ago, while Satyarthi has been seriously injured time after time as he rescued children from slavery and trafficking.
These are true heroes who have fought for children’s flourishing, and this is an important moment in the civil rights movement for children.
The First Child Receives the Peace Prize
Malala is the first child ever to receive the Nobel Prize. The very fact that she was found worthy of this global award is proof that the civil rights movement for children is maturing. Not long ago, she would have been one of those who is to be “seen and not heard,” not just in her homeland, but also in the United States. In 2014, though, she is a proud rights-holder fighting for the rights of all children who face extremist and social barriers to education.
While this prestigious award to a child should give hope to the children crushed by fanatical Muslims, it should also encourage children and their advocates worldwide. Children’s lack of education and suffering in extremist sects in the United States—like the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Followers of Christ, among others, and discussed in God vs. the Gavel: the Perils of Extreme Religious Liberty—need Malala and Satyarthi, too.
This Is the First Time That the Peace Prize Was Awarded Specifically for the Protection of Children
The Nobel Peace Prize was first awarded in 1901 to Henri Dunant (founder of the Red Cross) and Frédéric Passy (founder of the first French Peace Society and the main organizer of the first Universal Peace Congress). Ninety-five Peace Prizes have been awarded, to 88 men, 15 women (if one includes Malala), and 22 individual organizations.
The typical categories awarded have been for the “peace movement,” “negotiation,” and “world organizing,” with a healthy number of humanitarian and human rights issues thrown in. Three times women’s rights have been the focus. And then there was this year.
This is the first time that the protection of children has been the sole focus of the Prize. And only the second time that children’s rights were an element in the granting of the award. In 2003, Shirin Ebadi, an Irani jurist, won for her work on women’s and children’s rights. Obviously, children along with adults benefit from a peaceful world, but for children’s rights to stand alone atop this high perch should be encouraging to the millions worldwide fighting for the protection of children.
The Implicit Message That Would Have Been Sent Regarding the Protection of Children Had the Committee Chosen Pope Francis
The global scourge of child sex abuse and trafficking is impossible to overestimate. As we know all too well now, the largest religious organization in the world, the Roman Catholic Church, has been the institutional home for clergy abusers and bishop abettors in large numbers over many decades, if not centuries.
Pope Francis is popular and respected for many of his peacemaking gestures. Indeed, those were the credentials cited by those who thought he would win. On the issue of child sexual abuse, however, he had a sorry history of cover-up in Argentina, and as pope has moved slowly to punish child abusers and to protect children. Had he won the Nobel Peace Prize, he would have been feted beyond his accomplishments. And every victim would have been reminded yet again that his or her needs have been considered second-order.
This year’s award solely for the protection of children implicitly rejected the defense of so many powerful people: The “Yes-but-he/she-has-made-so-many-other-fine -contributions” defense. The endangerment of children is not an acceptable exception to one’s accomplishments if one is being considered for global acclamation (or anything else, frankly). Francis has a very long road to travel before he can receive the Nobel Peace Prize without an asterisk for his and his institution’s endangerment of children. It was remarkable this year that the world, and the bookies, expected Francis to win, even with the United Nations lambasting the Vatican for its failure to protect children and its crimes against humanity, as discussed here.
That is a signal that we have much left to do to protect our children.