A Pakistani teenage activist shot in the head by the Taliban last year for campaigning for better rights for girls has won the European Union's annual human rights award.

Malala Yousafzai, 16, who was attacked in north-western Pakistan by a group of gunmen who fired on her school bus, is also a favourite among experts and betting agencies to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

The Sakharov Prize for freedom of thought has been awarded by the European Parliament each year since 1988 to commemorate Soviet scientist and dissident Andrei Sakharov.

Its past winners include Nelson Mandela and Burmese activist Aung San Suu Kyi.

Malala was chosen as the winner after a vote among the heads of all the political groups in the 750-member parliament.

She beat fugitive US intelligence analyst Edward Snowden to the accolade.

Mr Snowden had been nominated by the Green group in the parliament for what it said was his "enormous service" to human rights and European citizens when he disclosed secret US surveillance programmes.