Kailash Satyarthi: the other Nobel Peace Prize winner
When the joint winners of the Nobel Peace Prize for 2014 were announced in Oslo on 10 October, there were many, like me, who responded both with a resounding “wonderful!” and a more mystified “who?”. Most of us were very familiar with Malala Yousafzai’s extraordinary story, but few had heard of the 60-year-old father of two from India, Kailash Satyarthi, who has dedicated much of his working life — often in the face of huge physical danger to himself and his colleagues — to saving children from slavery in a country where over 11% were still caught up in child labour as recently as 2012.
Kailash Satyarthi on child labour:
“Two out of three child labourers are engaged in agriculture and allied activities; the rest are in informal and unorganised sectors. Some are used for prostitution and pornography. Many are forced into beggary and into committing petty crimes for their bosses. Still others are drafted as child soldiers.”
“Child slavery is a crime against humanity. Humanity itself is at stake here. A lot of work still remains but I will see the end of child labor in my lifetime.” (Daily Mail interview)
But who is this gentle gentleman from New Delhi?
Initially an electrical engineer and college lecturer, Kailash Satyarthi abandoned his lucrative teaching career in 1980 to found Bachpan Bachao Andolan (Save the Childhood Mission), an organisation set up to rescue enslaved children. At grassroots level, the work involves following leads and snatching the captives — some of whom are stolen — from the clutches of traffickers, sweatshop owners, militants et al. Kailash Satyarthi and his team have suffered brutal, bone-breaking beatings at the hand of the children’s captors, and withstood several attacks on Bachpan Bachao Andolan’s offices. Yet undeterred by these very real and regular threats to his life, Kailash Satyarthi has remained steadfast in his mission.
Over 83,000 children have been rescued by Bachpan Bachao Andolan to date.
And while this in itself is a feat worthy of a Norwegian acknowledgement, Kailash Satyarthi has also been extremely active at international level.
In 1994, he established Goodweave International (known then as Rugmark), in a bid to rescue the ca. 420,000 child carpet makers in India. Some of these children worked in family businesses, but many others were sold by desperately poor parents into tantamount slavery and forced to labour long hours in appalling conditions. Goodweave is a label licensing system that grants carpet manufacturers the right to use the Goodweave label on the undertaking that they do not employ youngsters under the age of 14, they pay at least the minimum wage, and they permit surprise inspections. Rescued children are helped to begin a new life and provided with schooling. The organisation’s success, both in terms of reducing child labour and rehabilitating the children, is the result of a cooperation between many players: carpet manufacturers, campaigners for children’s rights, international organisations such as UNICEF, and, not least, consumer goodwill. Check for the Goodweave symbol on your next carpet purchase, and walk tall knowing no child was involved in its production.
Kailash Satyarthi on economic aspects of child labour:
“A recent UN study on the economic aspects of child labour reveals that an investment of $1 on the elimination of child labour will return $7 over a period of 20 years. While lack of education is a cause of child labour, it is also its consequence and effect.”
‘Education for all’ is another of Kailash Satyarthi’s visions and work goals. Formerly a member of a UNESCO body set up to investigate this issue, he has served on the board of the Education for All – Fast Track Initiative that is now known as the Global Partnership for Education: a multi-player, international organisation launched in 2002 to fast track the Millennium Development Goal of universal primary education by 2015; including, obviously, getting children in the poorest countries into quality education.
Kailash Satyarthi on education:
“One out of six people on our planet is still deprived of an education. This is the biggest scandal of our times. Illiteracy is the biggest Ongoing Apartheid.”
An interesting and thought-provoking analogy.
And now Kailash Satyarthi has added tackling ever-increasing drug use among youths in India to his crusades, and I can only assume a man with his amount of passionate determination and expertise will bring about a major change in this field too.
So I wish him well. Very well. And thank him on behalf of all the children he has freed in India. I hope he has the most magical time in
Oslo next week. He’s due.
Kailash Satyarthi is a very worthy Nobel Peace Prize winner indeed.
Quotes from speeches given by Kailash Satyarthi unless otherwise stated.