UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenager shot by the Taliban for promoting education for girls, called on world leaders to provide free compulsory schooling for every child in a U.N. address on Friday timed to coincide with her 16th birthday.
Speaking to youth leaders from more than 100 countries, she called for “a global struggle against illiteracy, poverty and terrorism.”
“Let us pick up our books and our pens,” she said. “They are our most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one book, and one pen can change the world. Education is the only solution.”
The U.N. has declared July 12 “Malala Day,” to honor the teen who returned to school in March after medical treatment in Britain for injuries suffered in the October attack.
UNESCO and Save the Children released a special reported entitled “Children Battling To Go To School,” ahead of Malala’s speech.
The report found that 95 percent of the 28.5 million children who aren’t getting a primary school education live in low and lower-middle income countries — 44 percent in sub-Saharan Africa, 19 percent in south and west Asia and 14 percent in the Arab states.
Girls make up 55 percent of the total and are often the victims of rape and other sexual violence that accompanies armed conflicts.
The study found that in 2012 there were more than 3,600 documented attacks on education, including violence, torture and intimidation against children and teachers resulting in death or grave injuries, as well as the shelling and bombing of schools and the recruitment of school-aged children by armed groups.
According to the report, while the number of primary school age children who are not getting an education has fallen to 57 million in 2011 from 60 million in 2008, during that period the percentage of youth in conflict-affected countries who aren’t at primary school rose to 50 percent from 42 percent.
“Across many of the world’s poorest countries, armed conflict continues to destroy not just school infrastructure, but also the hopes and ambitions of a whole generation of children,” UNESCO’s Director-General Irina Bokova said.