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Nobel Peace Prize Awards Honor 'Dignity Of The Child'


And now more on those causes the new Nobel Laureates are fighting for - ending child labor and promoting girl's education. Adil Najam has extensively studied poverty, education and child labor in South Asia. He's dean of the Pardee School of Global Studies at Boston University and joins me now. Welcome to the program.

ADIL NAJAM: Thank you very much.

BLOCK: Now, Professor Najam, you are from Pakistan. You wrote an open letter last year urging that Malala Yousafzai be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, didn't happen last year but now it has. What's the message that you think this prize sends?

NAJAM: I think this Prize and actually both choices that they've made is just an excellent choice and an excellent message. And it is the message of the dignity of the child that we have to give dignity to every child in every stage in her or his life. And that's the message of both of Kailash and Malala.

BLOCK: Kailash Satyarthi is the Indian recipient along with Malala Yousafzai.


BLOCK: Why is it important to link those two countries, India and Pakistan? And the two issues - girls education and child labor - what are the connections that are important to draw there?

NAJAM: I think that the Committee's making a very important connection. And the connection they're making is that it is society's responsibility to give the options of a dignified life to every child. And to give the options to every parent that they don't have to make the type of choices that puts their own child's life in peril. And that's what, you know, Malala has been saying. One book, one pen, one education will change the world. And that's, in many ways, what Kailash is saying, that children should not be working conditions that are subhuman. They should not be in conditions that are slavery-like. And the way out of that is education. And that's the link.

BLOCK: When you think about those millions of children enduring child labor, what is the face of that group? How would you describe who those children are in South Asia?

NAJAM: My first point would be to think not only of the face of the child, think also of the face of the parents. And for those of you listeners who are parents, think about why would someone imperil the lives of their children? And that is because society no longer gives them the options of providing a dignified life to their children.

BLOCK: I'm wondering, in India, as we see a growing middle-class, rising economic power, has the situation with child labor improved? Are you seeing fewer children in those conditions?

NAJAM: I hope we are seeing fewer children in that situation. But I fear that we are still seeing too many. And that's the message of Kailash. India, of course, is so huge with a billion people in its population that that number is large but this is not just India's challenge. This is the challenge in Pakistan. This is a challenge in Bangladesh. This is the challenge you see many places in Africa. And in many of these places, sometimes, you know, people get used to seeing children doing things in the workforce that they really shouldn't be doing. Whether it is children working in households as domestic help, whether it is children working as apprentices in motor mechanic shop, to the really dreadful images we see of children working in brick kilns or carpet weaving, things that are really injurious and dangerous to health. But we should pause for a moment with this Prize and think about all those children.

BLOCK: We know, of course, that Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head for her work on girl's education. She's been threatened, if she were to go back to Pakistan. How is the news of her receiving the Nobel Peace Prize being received back home?

NAJAM: You know, she was - Malala was shot in the head by the Taliban nearly exactly two years ago. And the lesson there is that those who try to silence her have in fact given her a new, a stronger and a more vibrant voice than she ever had before. Unfortunately, there are those in Pakistan who have greeted the news with cynicism. And this is really tragic because it shows the divides that are within the country, and where every news becomes sort of seen by this cynical lens. But for most part, I think people rejoice, and people rejoice not only in that a Pakistani has won the Nobel but for the cause for which this award has been given.

BLOCK: Professor Najam, thanks so much for talking with us.

NAJAM: Thank you.

BLOCK: That's Adil Najam. He's Dean of the Pardee School of Global Studies at Boston University. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.