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'Malala Day' marked in Pakistan, amid security fears

The United Nations has officially honored Malala Yousafzai, the 15-year-old Pakistani education activist who recently was shot outside of her school. NBC's Amna Nawaz reports.

As Pakistan marked "Malala Day" in a global day of support for the teenager shot by the Taliban for promoting girls' education, security fears in her hometown meant her schoolmates could not honor her in public.

Taliban hit men shot Malala Yousafzai on her school bus a month ago in Mingora in Pakistan's north-western Swat Valley in a cold-blooded murder attempt for the "crime" of campaigning for girls' rights to go to school.

The 15-year-old survived and her courage has won the hearts of millions around the world, prompting the UN to declare Saturday a "global day of action" for her.


People around the world are expected to hold vigils and demonstrations honoring Malala and calling for the 32 million girls worldwide who are denied education to be allowed to go to school.

Pakistani prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf saluted Malala's courage and urged his countrymen to stand against the extremist mindset that led to her attack.

"The outpouring of sympathy for Malala and abhorrence over the cowardly act demonstrate the determination of the Pakistani society not to allow a handful of radicalised elements to dictate their agenda," he said.

Private prayer for Malala
But in Mingora, the threat of further Taliban reprisals casts a fearful shadow, and students at Malala's Khushal Public School were forced to honor her in private.

"We held a special prayer for Malala today in our school assembly and also lit candles," school principal Mariam Khalid said.

"We did not organize any open event because our school and its students still face a security threat."

Though their bid to kill Malala failed, the Taliban have said they will attack any woman who stands against them and fears are so great that Khalid said even speaking to the media could put students' lives in danger.

Malala receives thousands of supportive messages from around world

Malala rose to prominence with a blog for the BBC charting life in Swat under the Taliban, whose bloody two-year reign of terror supposedly came to an end with an army operation in 2009.

'Daughter of the nation'
Despite the dangers, some children in Mingora were determined to speak out and pledged to follow Malala's brave example.

"Malala is a good friend of mine. She is brave and has honor and whoever attacked her did a terrible thing," Asma Khan, 12, a student in Saroosh Academy, close to Malala's school told said.

"After the attack on her and her injuries, we have now more courage to study and now we will fulfil her mission to spread education everywhere."

Khan's schoolmate Gul Para, 12, added: "Malala is the daughter of the nation and we are proud of her."

"She has stood by us and for our education up to now and now it is time that we should stand by her and complete her mission," she said.

Pakistani girl shot by Taliban reunited with family

Nearly 100,000 people have signed an online petition calling for Malala to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and on Friday UN special education envoy Gordon Brown handed a separate million-strong petition in support of Malala to Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari.

Islamabad on Friday announced that poor families will now receive $2 a month per child in primary school.

The program will be funded by the World Bank and Britain and distributed through the government's Benazir Income Support Program, designed to give small cash payments to needy families. The families in the program already receive $10 a month for basic expenditure.

After a stipend program was put in place in Pakistan's Punjab province, a World Bank study found a nine percent increase in girls' enrollment over two years, said Alaphia Zoyab, the South Asia campaigner for internet activist group Avaaz.

Pakistan is struggling to overcome widespread poverty, a Taliban insurgency and massive, endemic corruption. Less than 0.57 percent of Pakistan's 180 million citizens pay income tax, money that the government could use to educate poor children.

(Messages or donations may be left for Malala here.)  

The father of Malala Yousufzai, the 15-year-old Pakistani education activist shot by the Taliban, says his daughter has been "inspired and humbled by the thousands of cards, messages and gifts" she has received.

 

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