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Kailash Satyarthi—A messiah of children

Kailash Satyarthi—A messiah of children
Highlights

The Nobel Peace Prize to Indian child rights activist Kailash Satyarthi will renew global attention on the persisting problem of child labour in India.

Best Quotes

  • "If not now, then when? If not you, then who? If we are able to answer these fundamental questions, then perhaps we can wipe away the blot of human slavery," Satyarthi has said in the past, summing up his philosophy
  • "I think of it all as a test. This is a moral examination that one has to pass... to stand up against such social evils," he said in an interview years ago.
  • "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," he vowed
  • "I am thankful to the Nobel committee for recognising the plight of millions of children who are suffering in this modern age," he said
  • "I am really honoured but if the prize had gone to Mahatma Gandhi before me I would have been more honoured," he said. Mahatma Gandhi was nominated for but never won the Nobel Peace Prize.

New Delhi: The Nobel Peace Prize to Indian child rights activist Kailash Satyarthi will renew global attention on the persisting problem of child labour in India, where millions of them continue to work under cruel and dehumanising conditions despite an official ban on employing child workers.
Kailash Satyarthi reacts as he talks to the media at his office in New Delhi on winning the Nobel Peace Prize for 2014
India, sadly, is home to the largest number of child labourers in the world. Children from poor and deprived families continue to labour in cruel conditions in brick kilns, as agricultural hands, in the apparel industry, in roadside eating stalls called dhabas and as domestic helps in homes.

The official estimates of the Indian labour department say that there are nearly five million child labourers in India. The real number, according to activists, might be ten times this number. The Indian government banned child labour in 2012.


According to a recent study by the US Department of Labor, though child labour has significantly gone down in western countries, it continues to exist in significant pockets in South Asian countries, as well as in pockets of Latin America, Southeast Asia and Africa.

"It is clear that children continue to work for subcontractors and in homes in the Philippines and India. They perform sewing, trimming, embroidery and pleating tasks," it said.

The study said that as compared to India, Bangladesh had managed to somehow reduce child labour in industries like apparel making after an international outcry.

'Hindu-Muslim' reference sparks debate
Announcing child rights activists Kailash and Yusoufzai as winners, the jury drew attention to the joint award for "a Hindu and a Muslim", which instantly sparked a debate.

The Nobel Committee said it was "an important point for a Hindu and a Muslim, an Indian and a Pakistani, to join in a common struggle for education and against extremism."

BBC journalist Andrew North tweeted Kailash Satyarthi's response: "#NobelPeacePrize to me + #Malala is msg to India + Pak we shud live in peace says Kailash Satyarthi."

The two have been named joint winners of the 1.1 million dollar prize for their "struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education," the jury said.

It is the first time that an Indian and a Pakistani will share the Peace prize, but for work that is non-political and non-religious, many have pointed out.

The Nobel jury's statement has raised eyebrows at a time India and Pakistan are in the middle of a standoff over the worst violence at the border in more than a decade.

"Nobel Committee regards it as an important point for a Hindu and a Muslim, an Indian and a Pakistan...Why the religious, political tone?" tweeted strategic expert Brahma Chellaney.

"The Nobel Peace prize committee, having disgraced itself by hastily honoring Obama, stoops to play the Indian-Pakistan, Hindu-Muslim game," he added.

Journalist Shekhar Gupta commented, "Grt choice on #NobelPeacePrize but why that "Hindu-Muslim" line? Gratuitous, silly profiling of subcontinent. What if Kailash was a Muslim?" Not everyone was critical. Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad tweeted, "#NobelPeacePrize for two people from India and Pakistan who worked for children, is a message for change in this region."

"Love the part of #NobelPeacePrize release about nationality & religion of winners," posted New York-based journalist Sree Sreenivasan.

Some facts

  • Kailash Satyarthi belongs to MP. Trained as an electrical engineer, he turned into an activist for children's rights at 26
  • As a boy, he was moved by other children who had to work, and whose parents were too poor to send them to school. He started a football club with membership fees paying the school fees of needy children.
  • He and a friend collected donations of 2,000 schoolbooks in a single day, a project that eventually became a book bank in his home town
  • In 1983, he founded the Bachpan Bachao Andolan (Save the Childhood Movement) to fight child labour. His efforts have helped rescue thousands of children from bondage, trafficking and exploitative labour
  • With the help of NGOs and activists, he has organized hundreds of raids on factories and warehouses where children were being made to work
  • He created "RugMark", a scheme which certifies that carpets and rugs sold abroad have been made without the labour of children. The initiative turned out to be highly successful in raising global awareness about children's rights.
  • In 1998, Satyarthi was chairman of a global march against child labour that wound through more than 60 countries around the world. Children rescued from jobs in Asia, Africa and Latin America were among more than 1,000 people who ended the march in Geneva, at a conference of the International Labour Organisation (ILO)
  • After Narendra Modi was elected Prime Minister, Mr Satyarthi tweeted, "A tea-boy dares his detractors by becoming the PM of India. Now it's his turn to ensure that no child is forced to become a child labourer."
  • Satyarthi had been nominated for Nobel Peace Prize many times in the past for his his relentless crusade
  • Several prestigious awards have been conferred on him, including Defenders of Democracy Award (2009-US), Medal of the Italian Senate (2007-Italy), Robert F Kennedy International Human Rights Award (USA) and Fredric Ebert International Human Rights Award (Germany) etc.
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