New York

12 July 2013

Secretary-General's remarks to Youth Assembly on Malala Day

Welcome to the United Nations.

It is wonderful to see you all here.

Before I begin I would like to thank the President of the General Assembly for his leadership in organizing this very meaningful Youth Assembly today, honouring Malala, our hero, our champion.

And I would like to also thank the extraordinary leadership of our UN Special Envoy for Global Education, Gordon Brown, for his strong commitment and raising the awareness of global education.  It is a great pleasure to have again Malala, our champion, among us in celebrating her 16th birthday.

Today, youth of the world are taking over the United Nations.  This United Nations is occupied by youth delegates. I welcome it.

You are sending a message – a strong message of hope and empowerment,  a message of dignity and opportunity.

All of you are on the frontlines to give everybody an opportunity for education.

And we are honoured to have a courageous, humane, resilient and proud young girl leading this charge.

Usually the main seat at this podium is by the General Assembly President or myself, depending on the subject, but today it might be quite natural that Malala is sitting at front and centre.

Most of us celebrate a birthday with a party or perhaps a day off.

Malala chose to mark her 16th birthday at the United Nations, celebrating her cause for education. I thank her for her vision, and my warmest congratulations on your birthday. And Happy Birthday to you!

In fact, the United Nations marked the 1,000-day countdown for action for the Millennium Development Goals.

On that very particular day, that was April 5th, I was thinking of somebody – with whom should I speak, and with whom should I spend this day. If I am not able to meet anybody, then at least talk to somebody who would give a strong message for this 1,000 day countdown to the Millennium Development Goals.

I decided to speak to Malala.  I took up my telephone, but in fact, we Skyped.

As you know, the Millennium Development Goals number two priority is education. On that day I wanted to reach out to her and ask her to send out a strong message for the importance of education, and empowering women and girls. On that special day for the United Nations and development we called on her and for her action.

And now on her special day, she is calling on us.

She is calling on us to keep our promises – invest in young people – and put education first.  My message is that this world is very young. More than half of the global population is young people under the age of 25. So this world is young. It is only natural that we pay more attention to the aspirations of young people – all of you – including Malala.

So I have asked her to raise her voice and send out a strong message – what are your aspirations; what your concerns would be – to the world today. Use this forum properly. Send out a strong message to the world so that your parents and your leaders of your country can listen to your aspirations.  

Ladies and Gentlemen, she was targeted just because of her determination to go to school and learn.

Targeting Malala, extremists showed what they feared the most:  a girl with a book. 

When girls are educated, when young people are educated, then that is what terrorists are most fearful of most, rather than anything else.

I was so heartened and encouraged by the groundswell of support for Malala. 

It started with the people of Pakistan who stood up and said:  I am Malala.

My Special Envoy on Global Education, Mr. Gordon Brown, rallied the world and millions of signatures were collected in support. 

It was a clear call to Malala:  You are not alone.  We are all with you, standing behind you.

By sharing this special day at the United Nations, she is now telling the Malalas around the world that they are not alone. 

Governments and partners around the world have made important progress in education. UNESCO and UNICEF have helped lead the support of the UN family. 

Yet we have much work to do -- 57 million children are not in school. We have to bring all 57 million people to school by the end of 2015. That is our strong commitment at the United Nations.

Most of them are girls.  Half live in conflict-affected areas.

At a time when we must step up our efforts, international aid for basic education has declined for the first time in a decade.

And as we have tragically seen in several countries around the world – most recently in Nigeria – where children were attacked by terrorists at school - Schools must be a safe haven, a safe place, for all children – girls and boys – and their teachers who have been targeted in schools.  This is an unacceptable situation.

They have been threatened, they have been assaulted.  They have been killed. 

We cannot let this happen again.

No child should have to die for going to school.

Nowhere should teachers fear to teach or children fear to learn.

Together, we can change this picture.

This is the vision of my Global Education First Initiative. It has three priorities.  Bring all children to school, give them quality education, and foster global citizenship.

I didn’t have to learn about the importance of education from a textbook.  I lived it.  As Gordon Brown has just mentioned, my village, my whole country, was destroyed by the Korean War. And I had to study in the open, under the trees.  When it rained, there was no school. We were very poor. We were hungry. Our stomachs were empty.  But also, we were hungry and thirsty for education. That is why I was able to learn more about the world. I was able to learn more about my country and the world.

That is my story and the story of my country [the Republic of Korea]. 

All of you have your own stories.  Your own experiences.  Your own voices.

I thank you for bringing those voices together today. But this should not be the only day. You have to continue, and world leaders must listen to your voices.

You are leaders in education.  That is why you are here. 

I urge you to keep speaking out.  Keep raising the pressure.  Keep making a difference. 

And together, let us follow the lead of this brave young girl, Malala. 

Let us put education first.  Let us make this world better for all, and let us shape the future we want.

And I thank Malala, and Happy Birthday again. I wish you all the best.

Thank you.