Taliban Attack Survivor Speaks At U.N. On Her 16th Birthday

Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani woman shot by the Taliban last fall for advocating education for girls, made an appearance at the United Nations on her 16th birthday on Friday.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish. A young Pakistani girl who survived a Taliban attack last year was at the United Nations today, appealing for education for all children. It was the first public speech by Malala Yousafzai since the Taliban tried to kill her near her school in Pakistan's Swat Valley last year. Today also happens to be her 16th birthday, as NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Opening the U.N. Youth Assembly, education envoy and former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown pointed out that most children celebrate their birthdays with friends. But Malala, he says, has friends all over the world, and this was a chance to celebrate her second life.

GORDON BROWN: So as Malala comes to the stage to speak to you, let me repeat the words, the words the Taliban never wanted her to hear: Happy 16th birthday, Malala.

(APPLAUSE)

KELEMEN: Dressed in a pink headscarf and wearing a shawl that she says was from the slain Pakistani leader Benazir Bhutto, Malala recounted the day last October, when the Taliban shot her in the forehead.

MALALA YOUSAFZAI: The terrorists thought that they would change my aims and stop my ambitions but nothing changed in my life except this: Weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born.

(APPLAUSE)

KELEMEN: Malala says she's not looking for revenge but is out to fight for the rights of children to be educated. Extremists in Pakistan and around the world, she says, are afraid of books and pens.

YOUSAFZAI: I want education for the sons and daughters of the Taliban and all the terrorists and extremists. I do not even hate the Talib who shot me. Even if there is a gun in my hand and he stands in front of me, I would not shoot him.

KELEMEN: And as she launched her campaign for universal education, Malala says she wants to speak for those whose voices can't be heard.

YOUSAFZAI: Thousands of people have been killed by the terrorists and millions have been injured. I'm just one of them. So here I stand, one girl among many.

KELEMEN: U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says it's unacceptable that children have come under fire in Pakistan and most recently in Nigeria, where an Islamist group known as Boko Haram attacked a school last weekend. He's also worried that 57 million children around the world, most of them girls, are not in schools.

SECRETARY-GENERAL BAN KI-MOON: We have to bring all these 57 million people to the school by the end of 2015. That's our strong commitment of the United Nations.

KELEMEN: As he and the other U.N. dignitaries left, young activists from over 100 countries took over the podium to continue to talk about their work and to serenade Malala, who they say inspired them. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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