Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu

Cape Town - Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu on Tuesday awarded the annual International Children's Peace Prize to a US organisation advocating gun control that was set up by student survivors of February's mass school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

March for Our Lives is a safe-school and anti-gun violence initiative set up by survivors of the Parkland massacre - including Emma Gonzalez, who has become well-known in America for her activism and moving rhetoric.

Seventeen people were killed in the Parkland shooting.

"The peaceful campaign to demand safe schools and communities and the eradication of gun violence is reminiscent of other great peace movements in history," said Tutu.

"I am in awe of these children, whose powerful message is amplified by their youthful energy and an unshakable belief that children can, no must, improve their own futures," Tutu in Cape Town, where the ceremony took place.

"They are true changemakers who have demonstrated most powerfully that children can move the world," added the archbishop, 87, who came on stage with the help of a cane.

March for Our Lives has lobbied for stricter gun laws and since it was set up, more than 25 US states have passed legislation consistent with its cause.

Gonzalez spoke about how the group had been formed in the wake of the shooting. "Before the shooting at our high school, we were just normal American high school students," she said. "We were suddenly so aware we were the ones who could break the cycle of gun violence in America."

She added: "Our recent midterm elections ... showed revolutionary youth voter turnout." added Gonzalez. March for Our Lives also campaigned for youth participation in US elections.

The International Children's Peace Prize is awarded annually to a child or children-led organization that fights for children's rights. It has previously been won by Pakistan's Malala Yousafzai, among others.

Tutu, a Nobel laureate, is a patron of the prize, which was set up by Dutch NGO KidsRights.

Other finalists for this year's award included Moni Begum, a 17-year-old Bangladeshi who campaigns against child marriage, and Leilua Lino, an 18-year-old from Samoa who was raped by her father and now helps children recover from trauma.

The ceremony included performances by the Sowetan Gospel Choir and the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra. Tutu thanked the orchestra for "the splendid rendition of whatever it was" and waved his cane in time to the music.

"You're fantastic!" he told the March for Our Lives movement, adding that the young people "make us oldies really look like oldies," and jokingly pretending to be unable to lift the heavy statuette he awarded them.

dpa