Child rights activists Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan and Kailash Satyarthi of India were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday, in what is being seen as a highly symbolic push to end a decades-old rivalry between the nuclear-armed nations that have been locked in a deadly standoff along their disputed border over the past week.
Little known in his own country, Satyarthi has been heading a more than three-decade long campaign for child rights, pushing for their education and fighting against child trafficking and bonded labour.
“This award is recognition to all activists fighting against the exploitation of children and slavery,” said the 60-year-old activist, the second Indian to win a Nobel Peace prize after Mother Teresa who was given the award in 1979.
"I am thankful to Nobel committee for recognising the plight of millions of children who are suffering in this modern age. It is a huge honour for me."
Yousafzai, now 17, is a schoolgirl and education campaigner in Pakistan who was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman two years ago.
The Nobel jury said the prize was going to the two for “their struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education."
Signalling a larger intent behind jointly awarding the prize, the Nobel Committee said it "regards it as an important point for a Hindu and a Muslim, an Indian and a Pakistani, to join in a common struggle for education and against extremism."
The rivalry between India and Pakistan is among the world’s most intractable border disputes, one that is seen as a major source of for instability in South Asia. The two countries have fought three wars since their independence from Britain in 1947.
Over the past week, Indian and Pakistani troops have exchanged heavy fire across their Himalayan border in one of the worst escalation of violence in recent years that killed some 17 people on both sides. The firing is said to have stopped on Friday.
Oslo’s focus on South Asia was also signalled in a recent meeting of top Norwegian diplomats in Delhi that dwelled on the impact of Narendra Modi’s electoral win on the region, according to top Norwegian sources.
While regional consultations among ambassadors are a regular diplomatic practice, such a meeting on South Asia days assumes significance given Oslo’s involvement in brokering peace in India’s neighbourhood – Sri Lanka and Nepal.
Norway’s investments in India are around USD 10 billion; 90 Norwegian companies work in the country and in the first six months of 2014, the Norwegian embassy issued almost 10 percent more business visas for Indian citizens than in the preceding year.
Pointing to child labour, however, is embarrassing for India, where millions of underage workers are employed as domestic help or made to work at stone quarries, embroidery units, mines, carpet-weaving factories and restaurants and hotels.
Satyarthi’s organisation, the New Delhi-based Bachpan Bachao Andolan, has been at the head of the fight against child labour, creating domestic and international consumer resistance to products made by bonded children as well as with direct legal and advocacy work.
Data from NOGs indicated that child labourers could number 60 million in India, or 6% of the total population.
The father-of-two, who is an electrical engineer by training, has rescued some 80,000 children sold to pay their parents' debts and helped them find new lives.
Last month, based on a complaint filed by his organisation in a Delhi court, the Indian government was forced to put in place regulations to protect domestic workers who are often physically and sexually abused and exploited.
With the prize, Yousafzai, 17, becomes the youngest Nobel Prize winner, eclipsing Australian-born British scientist Lawrence Bragg, who was 25 when he shared the Physics Prize with his father in 1915.
Yousafzai was attacked in 2012 on a school bus in the Swat Valley in northwest Pakistan by masked gunmen as a punishment for a blog that she started writing for the BBC's Urdu service as an 11-year-old to campaign against the Taliban's efforts to deny women an education.
Unable to return to Pakistan after her recovery, Yousafzai moved to Britain, setting up the Malala Fund and supporting local education advocacy groups with a focus on Pakistan, Nigeria, Jordan, Syria and Kenya.
In New Delhi, shortly after the announcement, joyous celebrations broke out at Satyarthi’s modest office in a southern neighbourhood.
"This is not about simply poverty and rights of children. It is more than that. The fight has to continue," Satyarthi told reporters.
"We are happy that the issue has been recognised globally now. I will continue my work."
Read: Malala at school when told of Nobel Peace Prize award
In pics: Kailash Satyarthi, an activist at work
(With input from agencies)