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Malala Yousufzai to Address UN Youth Assembly

by Margaret Besheer

The United Nations will have a special visitor on Friday, when Pakistani teen activist Malala Yousufzai presents the U.N. secretary-general with a petition asking for help to get all children, especially girls, into school by 2015. Malala will also address youth leaders at the world body’s headquarters in New York.

Malala Yousufzai turns 16 on Friday. It will certainly be a special birthday for her, one she almost did not live to see, after Taliban gunmen shot her in the head as she headed home from school nine months ago.

Malala was targeted because she spoke out for the right of girls to go to school in her native Pakistan.

But instead of receiving gifts on this birthday, Malala hopes to share one with the world’s youth: universal education.

The education activist will present U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon with a petition signed – as of Thursday – by more than 330,000 people. They are taking a stand with Malala calling on the U.N. General Assembly to fund new teachers, schools and books, and recommitting to getting every girl and boy into the classroom by December 2015.

The secretary-general’s spokesman, Martin Nesirky, said Ban is looking forward to welcoming this courageous young woman to the United Nations. He has even declared Friday to be “Malala Day.”

“From the day that terrible shooting – assassination attempt – took place, Malala Yousufzai is a symbol for the rights of girls, and indeed the rights of all young people, to an education. And she has further underscored that symbolism through her remarkable recovery and her eloquence in explaining her case and her position,” said Nesirky.

Before presenting Ban Ki-moon with the petition, Malala will address more than 500 young people from around the world at a U.N. Youth Assembly.

The U.N. says some 57 million children worldwide do not attend primary school. Many of them live in conflict zones. Last September, the secretary-general launched the U.N. Global Education First Initiative with the goal of putting every child in school and improving the quality of learning.