UNITED NATIONS —
Malala said extremists kill students, especially girls, and destroy schools because they are afraid of the power of education and the power of women, "and they are afraid of change, afraid of the equality that we will bring into our society."
She also decried the fact that wars, child labor and child marriage are preventing boys, and especially girls, from going to school.
Malala received several standing ovations and everyone joined in a rousing rendition of "Happy Birthday." In U.N. corridors, her speech got rave reviews with some diplomats and observers predicting a future political career.
Former British prime minister Gordon Brown, the U.N. special envoy for global education who helped organize the assembly, called Malala "the most courageous girl in the world." She was airlifted to Britain for treatment and returned to school in Birmingham, where her family now lives, in March.
He said she was doing exactly what the Taliban didn't want her to do, and announced that 4 million people had signed an online petition calling for education for everyone.
One of the main U.N. goals set by world leaders at a summit in 2000 is to ensure that every child in the world gets a primary education by the end of 2015.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged stepped-up efforts to get 57 million youngsters into school in the next 900 days. He said it won't be easy given the first decline in international aid for basic education in a decade and recent attacks on students and schools in Nigeria, Pakistan and elsewhere.
"No child should have to die for going to school," Ban said. "Nowhere should teachers fear to teach or children fear to learn. Together, we can change this picture. ... And together let us follow the lead of this brave young girl, Malala. Let us put education first."