EDUCATION campaigner Malala Yousafzai has urged the Commonwealth to “build up a bright future” for children across the globe and protect them from being exploited through child labour and trafficking.
The schoolgirl activist also called for equal rights for women as she gave the address during the Commonwealth Day observance service at Westminster Abbey.
Leading the congregation was the Queen, head of the Commonwealth, joined by the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince of Wales, Duchess of Cornwall and a host of dignitaries and hundreds of schoolchildren. The Earl of Wessex, who celebrated his 50th birthday yesterday, was also among the royal party.
Commonwealth Day, held annually on the second Monday in March, was celebrated during the abbey service with music, hymns and readings.
The schoolgirl, 16, who is universally known by just her first name told the congregation: “In this world, we are living as a family of nations and it is necessary that each member of this family receives equal opportunities of economic, social and especially educational growth. Even if one member stays behind, the rest can never go forward.”
She highlighted two main issues – the lack of education for children in many parts of the world and women’s empowerment. She said: “Children face challenges every day in their lives when they go to their schools. In Pakistan, in India and in many parts of Africa there are many barriers to education such as poverty, lack of access, violence and cultural opposition.
“In my opinion, it should be the top priority that each country in the Commonwealth and all over the world has a 100 per cent attendance of each student whether girl or boy.”
Malala was shot in the head by Taleban gunmen in her native Pakistan after campaigning for the right of girls to be educated. She has now made her home in the UK and, since recovering, has gone to speak out on the world stage, addressing the UN and making the cover of Time magazine.