Kailash Satyarthi (born Kailash Sharma; 11 January 1954) is an Indian children’s rights activist. He is a Nobel Peace Prize recipient and founder of Bachpan Bachao Andolan (lit. Save Childhood Movement), the Kailash Satyarthi Childrens Foundation, Global March Against Child Labour, and GoodWeave International.
To date, Kailash Satyarthi and his team at Bachpan Bachao Andolan have liberated more than 86,000 children in India from child labour, slavery and trafficking. In 1998, Satyarthi led the Global March against Child Labour, an 80,000 km long march across 103 countries to put forth a global demand against child labour. The movement became one of the largest social movements ever on behalf of exploited children. The demands of the marchers, which included children and youth, were reflected in the draft of the ILO Convention 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labour. The following year, the Convention was unanimously adopted at the ILO Conference in Geneva.
Kailash Satyarthi has been a member of a UNESCO body established with the goal of providing Education for All and has been on the board of the Fast Track Initiative (now known as the Global Partnership for Education). Satyarthi serves on the board and committee of several international organisations including the Center for Victims of Torture (USA), the International Labor Rights Fund (USA), and the International Cocoa Foundation.
Satyarthi was among Fortune magazines Worlds Greatest Leaders in 2015 and featured in LinkedIns Power Profiles List in 2017. His work has been recognized through various national and international honours and awards including the Nobel Peace Prize of 2014, which he shared with Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan.
More recently, Satyarthi led a nationwide march, Bharat Yatra, in India covering 12,000 kilometres (7,500 mi) in 35 days, to spread awareness about child sexual abuse and trafficking.
Born Kailash Sharma, on 11 January 1954, in the Vidisha district of central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, he changed his surname to Satyarthi (meaning seeker of truth). The name change followed an incident where he, inspired by Mahatma Gandhis leadership in the Indian Independence Movement and his own towns leaders speaking out against the Indian caste system, decided to organize a dinner for the upper caste residents with food cooked by low-caste, so called untouchable people. When the leaders of the town failed to show up to the dinner, Satyarthi went back to his house dejected, to find that elderly upper caste people were threatening to outcaste his family unless he (went) to the river Ganges to take a holy dip. Additionally, (he) should organize a feast for 101 priests, wash their feet and drink that water. Satyarthi refused to comply with their unreasonable demands. However, Satyarthi was still punished, he was barred from his homes kitchen and dining room and his utensils were separated. Angry at the attempt to outcaste him, Satyarthi decided to outcaste the entire caste system by rejecting his surname, as most Indian surnames reflect the caste of a family, and changing it to Satyarthi.
Another notable incident in Satyarthis childhood occurred on his first day of school, wherein Satyarthi who was still a child noticed a boy his age sitting with his father, a cobbler, outside the premises of the school, mending shoes. After asking his teacher why the boy wasnt in school like him and being denied the answer, Satyarthi questioned his headmaster who informed him that the cobbler was poor therefore he could not send his son to school and that it was perfectly normal for poor children to work in order to survive. Unsatisfied with the answer Satyarthi asked the cobbler himself why he didnt send his son to school. He was told that there are certain children who are born to work. Satyarthi describes this as the first time he questioned why some children are born to work at the cost of their childhood and freedom and education and dreams due to the circumstances of their birth.
He attended Government Boys Higher Secondary School in Vidhisha, and completed his degree in electrical engineering at Samrat Ashok Technological Institute, Vidisha and a post-graduate degree in high-voltage engineering. He then joined a college in Bhopal as a lecturer for a few years.
In 1980, he gave up his career as an engineer and became secretary general for the Bonded Labor Liberation Front; he also founded the Bachpan Bachao Andolan (Save Childhood Movement) that year. He has also been involved with the Global March Against Child Labor and its international advocacy body, the International Center on Child Labor and Education (ICCLE), which are worldwide coalitions of NGOs, teachers and trades unionists. He has also served as the President of the Global Campaign for Education, from its inception in 1999 to 2011, having been one of its four founders alongside ActionAid, Oxfam and Education International.
In addition, he established GoodWeave International (formerly known as Rugmark) as the first voluntary labelling, monitoring and certification system of rugs manufactured without the use of child-labour in South Asia. This latter organisation operated a campaign in Europe and the United States in the late 1980s and early 1990s with the intent of raising consumer awareness of the issues relating to the accountability of global corporations with regard to socially responsible consumerism and trade. Satyarthi has highlighted child labor as a human rights issue as well as a welfare matter and charitable cause. He has argued that it perpetuates poverty, unemployment, illiteracy, population growth, and other social problems, and his claims have been supported by several studies. He has also had a role in linking the movement against child labour with efforts for achieving “Education for All”. He has been a member of a UNESCO body established to examine this and has been on the board of the Fast Track Initiative (now known as the Global Partnership for Education). Satyarthi serves on the board and committee of several international organisations including the Center for Victims of Torture (USA), the International Labor Rights Fund (USA), and the International Cocoa Foundation. He is now reportedly working on bringing child labour and slavery into the post-2015 development agenda for the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals.
Satyarthi, along with Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014 “for their struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education”. Satyarthi is the fifth Nobel Prize laureate for India and only the second Indian laureate of the Nobel Peace Prize after Mother Teresa in 1979.
Kailash Satyarthi supported “Save the Girl Child” initiative by Sunita Dube, Chairperson of MedScape India and discussed the possible actions with Yogesh Dube, Child Rights Commission member for betterment of women and children, specifically their health and well being.
- Bachpan Bachao Andolan was founded by Kailash Satyarthi in 1980 as a mass movement to create a child friendly society where all children are free from exclusion and exploitation and receive free education. The movement has engaged itself in identifying, liberating, rehabilitating and educating children in servitude through direct intervention, community participation, partnerships and coalitions, promoting ethics in trade, unionizing workers, running campaigns on issues such as education, trafficking, forced labour, ethical trade, and by building child friendly villages.
- Satyarthi established GoodWeave International (formerly known as Rugmark) a network of non-profit organizations dedicated to ending illegal child labour in the rug making industry which provided the first voluntary labelling, monitoring and certification system of rugs manufactured without the use of child labour in South Asia. This latter organisation operated a campaign in Europe and the United States in the late 1980s and early 1990s with the intent of raising consumer awareness of the issues relating to the accountability of global corporations with regard to socially responsible consumerism and trade. Rugmark International re-branded the certification program and introduced the GoodWeave label in 2009. The organization was also re-branded to GoodWeave International. Today the international network comprises producing country offices in India, Nepal and Afghanistan; and consumer country programs in the US, UK, and Germany.
- The Kailash Satyarthi Childrens Foundation, established in 2004 by Satyarthi to achieve a child friendly world, operates with an integrated approach towards the problems of the children. Spreading awareness, policy advocacy and capacity building are the foundation blocks of the KSCF approach. A diverse team of experts with keen interest in issues of child rights, internal expertise and strong stakeholder collaboration are the strengths and drivers of the organisation. The Kailash Satyarthi Childrens Foundation (KSCF) is the global umbrella for KSCF India and KSCF, US. A crucial ingredient of the KSCF philosophy is the participation of people, in bringing about the change they deserve. The involvement of people is achieved through our Campaigns and Programmes, where people are made aware about the issues faced by the society and are endowed with solutions that work efficiently. The KSCF Institute looks after the Policy Building and Strengthening process, with its team of experts adept at designing solutions to the problems of people.
- Satyarthi formed the Global Campaign for Education, and was made the organisations president on its inception in 1999. Global Campaign for Education is an international coalition of non-governmental organizations, working to promote children’s and adult education through research and advocacy. It was formed in 1999 as a partnership between NGOs that were separately active in the area, including ActionAid, Oxfam, Education International, Global March Against Child Labour and national organizations in Bangladesh, Brazil and South Africa.
The Bharat Yatra, was launched by KSCF to spread awareness about child trafficking and sexual abuse. Launched in Kanyakumari on September 11, 2017 by Kailash Satyarthi, this campaign marched through seven routes covering 24 Indian states and Union Territories, and over 12,000 km. The campaign was aimed at starting a social dialogue about child sexual abuse and child trafficking, hitherto taboo issues in India, in order to protect children vulnerable within their homes, communities, schools.The campaign collaborated with 5000 civil society organisations, more than 60 Indian faith leaders, 500 Indian political leaders, 600 local, state and national bodies of the Indian government, 300 members of the Indian judiciary, and 25,000 educational institutions across India.
Awards and honors
Satyarthi has been the subject of a number of documentaries, television series, talk shows, advocacy and awareness films. In September 2017 India Times listed Satyarthi as one of the 11 Human Rights Activists Whose Life Mission Is To Provide Others With A Dignified Life Satyarthi has been awarded the following national and international honours:
- 2018: Personality of the Decade by Dainik Prayukti
- 2017: P.C Chandra Puraskaar
- 2015: Harvard’s University Award “Humanitarian of the Year”
- 2015: Honorary Doctorate by Amity University, Gurgaon
- 2014: Nobel Peace Prize
- 2009: Defenders of Democracy Award (US)
- 2008: Alfonso Comin International Award (Spain)
- 2007: Gold medal of the Italian Senate (2007)
- 2007: recognized in the list of “Heroes Acting to End Modern Day Slavery” by the US State Department
- 2006: Freedom Award (US)
- 2002: Wallenberg Medal, awarded by the University of Michigan
- 1999: Friedrich Ebert Stiftung Award (Germany)
- 1998: Golden Flag Award (Netherlands)
- 1995: Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award (US)
- 1995: The Trumpeter Award (US)
- 1994: The Aachener International Peace Award (Germany)
- 1993: Elected Ashoka Fellow (US)
Reception in India
Meet-up for Childhood Freedom at Lincoln Memorial
On 16 June 2015 Satyarthi gave a clarion call to leaders and countries towards global elimination of child labour and slavery. Satyarthi was joined by a large number of child rights groups and organisations at the Lincoln Memorial where he called for achieving freedom for the world’s children from slavery, labour, abuse, trafficking and illiteracy.
- Satyarthi, Kailash; Zutshi, Bupinder (2006). Globalisation, Development And Child Rights. New Delhi: Shipra Publications. ISBN 9788175412705.
- Satyarthi Kailash (2017) Will for Children. Prabhat Prakashan. ISBN 9789386300355