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OSLO, Norway – Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan and Kailash Satyarthi of India won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for risking their lives to fight for children's rights. The decision made Malala, a 17-year-old student and education activist, the youngest-ever Nobel winner.
The news set off celebrations on the streets of Mingora, the main town in Pakistan's volatile Swat valley, with residents greeting each other and distributing sweets. At the town's Khushal Public School, which is owned by Malala's father, students danced in celebration Friday, jumping up and down.
When she was a student there, Malala was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman two years ago for insisting that girls as well as boys have the right to an education. Surviving several operations with the help of British medical care, she continued both her activism and her studies.
Appropriately, Malala was at school in the central English city of Birmingham at the time of the Nobel announcement and was expected to make a statement later Friday.
Satyarthi, 60, has been at the forefront of a global movement to end child slavery and exploitative child labor since 1980, when he gave up his career as an electrical engineer. The grassroots activist has led the rescue of tens of thousands of child slaves and developed a successful model for their education and rehabilitation. He has also survived several attempts on his life.
"Child slavery is a crime against humanity. Humanity itself is at stake here. A lot of work still remains but I will see the end of child labor in my lifetime," Satyarthi told The Associated Press at his office in New Delhi. "If any child is a child slave in any part of the world, it is a blot on humanity. It is a disgrace."
Malala's father, Ziauddin Yousufzai, said the decision will further the rights of girls.
"(The Nobel will) boost the courage of Malala and enhance her capability to work for the cause of girls' education," he told the AP.
Pakistani Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan congratulated the nation as well as Malala and her family.
"(This) has given pride to the whole of Pakistan," he said.
The Nobel committee's announcement reflected a delicate diplomatic balance, naming one activist from Pakistan and another from India, two countries that are long-time bitter rivals; one Muslim and one Hindu; both sexes; an elder statesman of child's rights and a youthful advocate who had herself been a victim.
Committee chairman Thorbjoern Jagland said it was important to reward both an Indian Hindu and a Pakistani Muslim for joining "in a common struggle for education and against extremism." The two will split the Nobel award of $1.1 million.
By highlighting children's rights, the committee widened the scope of the peace prize, which in its early days was given for efforts to end or prevent armed conflicts.
"It is a prerequisite for peaceful global development that the rights of children and young people be respected," the committee said. "In conflict-ridden areas in particular, the violation of children leads to the continuation of violence from generation to generation."
Many around the world praised the Nobel committee for focusing on children.
"The biggest threat to the Taliban is a girl with a book," said Margot Wallstrom, Sweden's foreign minister and former special representative of the U.N. Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict.
Raised in Pakistan's ruggedly beautiful, politically volatile Swat Valley, Malala was barely 11 years old when she began championing girls' education, speaking out in TV interviews. The Taliban had overrun her hometown of Mingora, terrorizing residents, threatening to blow up girls' schools, ordering teachers and students into the all-encompassing burqas.
She was critically injured on Oct. 9, 2012, when a Taliban gunman boarded her school bus and shot her in the head. She survived through luck -- the bullet did not enter her brain -- and by the quick intervention of British doctors visiting Pakistan.
Flown to Britain for specialist treatment at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, she underwent numerous surgeries but made a strong recovery. Malala now lives with her father, mother and two brothers in Birmingham and goes to the private Edgbaston High School for girls.
She has been showered with human rights prizes, including the European Parliament's Sakharov Award.
Yet her memoir, "I Am Malala," published last year, reminded the world that beneath the now-iconic exterior she is still a teenager who likes TV shows such as "Ugly Betty" and the cooking show "MasterChef," who worries about her clothes and her hair and wishes she was taller.
The Nobel committee said Satyarthi was carrying on the tradition of another great Indian, Mahatma Gandhi, who remains the most notable omission in the 113-year history of the Nobel Peace Prize.
"Showing great personal courage, Kailash Satyarthi, maintaining Gandhi's tradition, has headed various forms of protests and demonstrations, all peaceful, focusing on the grave exploitation of children for financial gain," the committee said.
India's President Pranab Mukherjee said "the prize should be seen as recognition of the contributions of India's vibrant civil society in addressing complex social problems such as child labor."
A.N.S. Ahmed, a well-known sociologist in India, said the award should prod the Indian government to do more in a country where a large number of children must support their families by engaging in dangerous jobs.
"The award will have a deep impact not just on the Indian government but also on the civil society to work with passion and improve the condition of children by enforcing their rights and shake-up India's government," he said.
The founder of the Nobel Prizes, Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel, said the prize should go to "the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses."
The committee has interpreted those instructions differently over time, widening the concept of peace work to include efforts to improve human rights, fight poverty and clean up the environment.
Former Indian diplomat Lalit Mansingh praised the Nobel committee's decision.
"(They are) conscious of helping in conflict resolution. The award, especially at a time when India-Pakistan relations are under stress, is a nice gesture," he said.
The Nobel Prizes in medicine, chemistry, physics and literature were announced earlier this week. The economics award will be announced on Monday.
All awards will be handed out on Dec. 10, the anniversary of Nobel's death in 1896.