In a speech to mark Commonwealth Day yesterday (Monday), Malala Yousafzai called on the 53-nation grouping to protect children around the world from being exploited through child labour and trafficking.
The schoolgirl activist, who lives in Birmingham, England, also called for equal rights for women during her address at the Commonwealth Day Observance service at Westminster Abbey in London, UK.
Yousafzai was shot in the head by Taliban gunmen in her native Pakistan after campaigning for the right of girls to be educated.
She told the congregation: “Children face challenges every day in their lives when they go to their schools. In Pakistan, in India and in many parts of Africa, there are many barriers to education such as poverty, lack of access, violence and cultural opposition.”
She added, “In my opinion, it should be the top priority that each country in the Commonwealth and all over the world has a 100% attendance of each student, whether girl or boy.”
At the ceremony, there was also a performance by acclaimed Mobo award winner and Brit nominee Laura Mvula and a poem – specially commissioned for Commonwealth Day – read by South African writer and performance artist Phillippa Yaa de Villiers.
The Observance, Britain’s largest annual inter-faith gathering, was attended by nearly 1,000 children.
Commonwealth Day is held annually on the second Monday in March.
In his message, Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma said: “The essence of a team is that – like the Commonwealth – its members know the advantage of working together and the strength of mutual support.
“The essence of a successful team – such as the Commonwealth – is that together it achieves more than the sum of its parts.”
Meanwhile the head of the Commonwealth HM Queen Elizabeth II used her Commonwealth Day message to praise the family of nations as a “powerful influence of good for the future”.
She stressed that experiences across the Commonwealth might be different but everyone is focused on the same goals. In her annual address, she highlighted this year’s Commonwealth theme – Team Commonwealth – and how nations understood they could achieve more by working together.
In her address, the Queen, who is head of the Commonwealth, said: “People of all ages from different cultures are weaving an ever-growing network of links which connect us in our diversity and our common purpose. It is this unity that is expressed in this year’s theme: Team Commonwealth.”
The Queen went on to say: “Experiences of life differ widely throughout the Commonwealth, and we each make contributions from sometimes very different viewpoints.
“But we are committed to the same goals. Together we offer each other encouragement and draw strength from this mutual support.”
She added, “The understanding that we belong together, and are able, through teamwork, to achieve far more than we could do alone, has always been at the heart of our approach.
The Queen also highlighted the Commonwealth Games, which will be staged in Glasgow this summer, and how her baton is making its way around the globe through 70 nations before returning to Scotland.