A 15-year-old Pakistani girl shot in the head by the Taliban for promoting girls' education has been released from a Birmingham hospital to live with her family, doctors said today.
Photographs and a video released by the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham showed Malala Yousafzai hugging nurses, waving and smiling shyly.
"She is quite well and happy on returning home — as we all are," Malala's father, Ziauddin, told The Associated Press.
Malala will live with her parents and two brothers in the U.K. while she continues to receive treatment, but will be admitted again in the next month for another round of surgery to rebuild her skull.
Experts have been optimistic that Malala, who was airlifted from Pakistan in October to receive specialized medical care, has a good chance of recovery because the brains of teenagers are still growing and can better adapt to trauma.
"Malala is a strong young woman and has worked hard with the people caring for her to make excellent progress in her recovery," said Dr. Dave Rosser, the medical director for University Hospitals Birmingham.
"Following discussions with Malala and her medical team, we decided that she would benefit from being at home with her parents and two brothers."
Release 'an inspiration'
Malala's case won worldwide recognition, and the teen became a symbol for the struggle for women's rights in Pakistan. In an indication of her reach, she made the shortlist for Time magazine's "Person of the Year" for 2012.
Women's rights campaigner Shahida Choudry said Malala's release is a source of joy.
"She is genuinely an inspiration not only to myself, but for millions of other people around the world," she told CBC News.
Malala's story has inspired people and made women more determined in the fight for women's rights, said Wajid Shamsul Hasan, Pakistan's high commissioner to the U.K.
"It has really given a new lease of life to a determined struggle against these barbarians," he said.
Father given diplomatic post in U.K.
The Taliban targeted Malala because of her relentless objection to the group's regressive interpretation of Islam that limits girls' access to education.
She was returning home from school in Pakistan's scenic Swat Valley on Oct. 9 when the Taliban targeted her for criticizing their efforts to keep girls from getting an education. The militants have threatened to target Malala again because they say she promotes "Western thinking."
Pakistani doctors removed a bullet that entered her head and headed toward her spine. The decision to send Malala to Britain was taken in consultation with her family; Pakistan is paying for her treatment.
Pakistan also appointed Malala's father, Ziauddin, as its education attache in Birmingham. The position, with an initial three-year commitment, virtually guarantees that Malala will remain in Britain for now.
Citing patient confidentiality, hospital authorities declined to say what her plans were to continue her education, though they acknowledge she is able to read in both English and Urdu.
While little has been made public about Malala's medical condition, younger brains recover more fully from trauma because they are still growing. Dr. Anders Cohen, chief of neurosurgery at the Brooklyn Hospital Center in New York, estimated she might recover up to 85 per cent of the cognitive ability she had before — more than enough to be functional.
"She'd be able to move on with life, maybe even become an activist again," said Cohen, who is not involved in Malala's treatment.
Family, friends excited but fear for her safety
In Malala's hometown of Mingora, family and friends were excited to hear of her discharge from the hospital. There were no public celebrations, but her cousins handed out sweets to neighbours after hearing of her leaving the hospital.
Many also hope that she will eventually get well enough to return to her home in the Swat Valley.
"Obviously we all are jubilant over her rapid recovery, and we hope that she will soon fully recover and would return back to her home town at an appropriate time," said Mahmoodul Hasan, the 35-year-old cousin of Malala. He also runs a private school in Mingora, like Malala's father did.
Another cousin in Mingora said that while the news of her discharge was cause for joy, fears remain for her safety.
"I would say the real happy day will be when we all get confidence that there would be no threat of attack on any Malala of the country in the future," said Azizul Hasan, 30.
That day seems far away. Only last month, several hundred students in Mingora protested plans to have their school named after Malala, saying it would make the institution a target for the Taliban. The militants have threatened to target Malala again because they say she promotes "Western thinking."
"The fact is: we are a state of war," said Hasan, Pakistan's high commissioner to the U.K. "And [the]
government of Pakistan is doing its best to provide security. But when you have a faceless killer who can crop up here, crop up there, you can't really fight them like that."
Two girls injured in the same attack as Malala received police escorts once they were well enough to return to school. They have said they took courage from her.