Kailash Satyarthi, born on January 11, 1954, is an Indian social reformer who has dedicated his life to fighting against child labour and advocating for the universal right to education. His remarkable journey as an activist, educator, and advocate has earned him international recognition, including the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014. This article delves into the life and work of Kailash Satyarthi, shedding light on his unwavering commitment to ensuring a brighter future for children.
Kailash Satyarthi, originally named Kailash Sharma, was born in Vidisha, a small town in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. He grew up in a middle-class family, the youngest of four brothers and a sister. His father, a retired police head constable, and his mother, an uneducated housewife with high moral values, instilled in him a deep sense of compassion and idealism. As a young child, he learned Urdu at a neighbouring mosque and pursued education in Hindi and English at his school. It was during his formative years that he began to understand the profound impact of limited access to education and the harsh realities of poverty.
Satyarthi's educational journey took him to the Government Boys Higher Secondary School in Vidisha, followed by an undergraduate degree in electrical engineering at Samrat Ashok Technological Institute. He later pursued a post-graduate degree in high-voltage engineering. He even briefly served as a lecturer at his college before embarking on a life-altering path of social activism.
In 1980, Kailash Satyarthi decided to leave behind a promising career as an electrical engineer to establish the Bachpan Bachao Andolan (Save Childhood Movement). This organisation aimed to create a child-friendly society where every child could be free from exploitation and exclusion, receiving quality education. This marked the beginning of his lifelong mission to eradicate child labour, which was prevalent in India.
One of Kailash Satyarthi's most significant contributions to the fight against child labour was the conception and leadership of the Global March Against Child Labor in 1998. This monumental initiative involved a march across 103 countries, covering a staggering 80,000 kilometres. It was a resounding call to the world to address the issue of the worst forms of child labour. The demands of the marchers, many of whom were child survivors of exploitation, informed the draft of the ILO Convention 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labor, which was unanimously adopted at the ILO Conference in Geneva.
Satyarthi's influence extended beyond India. He founded GoodWeave International (formerly known as Rugmark), a network of non-profit organisations dedicated to ending illegal child labour in the rug-making industry in South Asia. The organisation introduced the first voluntary labelling, monitoring, and certification system for rugs manufactured without the use of child labour. His campaigns raised awareness of socially responsible consumerism and the accountability of global corporations.
Throughout his career, Kailash Satyarthi emphasised that child labour was not just a welfare issue but a fundamental human rights concern. He linked the fight against child labour with the global effort to achieve "Education for All." He also served on various international boards and committees, including the Center for Victims of Torture, the International Labor Rights Fund, and the International Cocoa Foundation. He played a pivotal role in including child labour and slavery in the United Nations post-2015 development agenda for the Sustainable Development Goals.
In 2014, Kailash Satyarthi's tireless efforts were recognised on the global stage when he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, alongside Malala Yousafzai, "for their struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education." He became the first natural-born Indian Nobel Peace Laureate, a testament to his unwavering commitment to the cause.
Kailash Satyarthi's work is not confined to a single organisation. He has founded multiple social activist organisations, including Bachpan Bachao Andolan, Global March Against Child Labor, Global Campaign for Education, Kailash Satyarthi Children's Foundation, and Bal Ashram Trust. These organisations continue to fight against child labour, advocate for children's rights, and promote quality education.
His latest initiative, the 100 Million Campaign, is a youth-led movement striving to create a world where all young people can live free, safe, and educated lives. This campaign operates in 35 countries on five continents, emphasising the importance of protecting children and their rights.
One of Kailash Satyarthi's recent campaigns, the Bharat Yatra, sought to raise awareness about child trafficking and sexual abuse. The campaign covered a vast expanse of India and involved a diverse range of stakeholders, including civil society organisations, faith leaders, political leaders, government bodies, and educational institutions. The Bharat Yatra played a crucial role in influencing legislative changes to better protect children against abuse.
Kailash Satyarthi resides in New Delhi, India, with his family, which includes his wife, son, daughter-in-law, grandson, daughter, and son-in-law. His resilience and dedication to his mission have been tested, as evidenced by the theft and subsequent recovery of his Nobel Prize medal in 2017.
Kailash Satyarthi's remarkable contributions have earned him numerous awards and honours. In addition to the Nobel Peace Prize, he has received recognition from organisations and governments worldwide, including the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award, the Gold Medal of the Italian Senate, and the Freedom Award.
Kailash Satyarthi's life and work exemplify the profound impact that one individual can have in the fight for a better world. His dedication to eradicating child labour, ensuring access to quality education, and protecting the rights of children has left an indelible mark on the global community. Kailash Satyarthi's legacy continues to inspire and mobilise countless individuals and organisations to stand up for the rights and well-being of children worldwide.