WCP Nominee Fights to Free Child Slaves in India

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NEW DEHLI, India — The World’s Children’s Prize (WCP) honors three heroes of children’s rights each year and one will receive a $50,000 grant. Kailash Satyarthi works to free child slaves in India and put them into school.

Around the world, there are 215 million children forced to work and 60 million of these children are from India. A major risk factor for children being victims of forced labor and trafficking is extreme poverty, which affects a significant portion of the Indian population.

One of every three of the world’s poorest people lives in India. The average income per person is around $4 per day and around one-fourth of the country’s 1.3 billion people live in extreme poverty.

Traffickers prey on these families and promise to send the children off to school, but instead put them to work in dangerous conditions and don’t allow them to pursue an education.

Another factor contributing to the high numbers of child labor in India is the caste system. The caste system traps people in a social class and leaves them with little to no social mobility to improve the lives of their families.

For the untouchable class and those trapped in debt bondage, where persons inherit a debt from relatives and must work to pay off that debt, there is little hope for escape from the system.

Ultimately, the caste system keeps families in extreme poverty in India by leaving both adults and youths trapped in debt bondage and/or preventing youth from getting an education, which leaves them vulnerable to trafficking.

WCP nominee, Kailash Satyarthi has been working for more than thirty years to improve the conditions of children in India.

His work includes going on raids to free children from working in brick and carpet factories, promoting child-labor-free carpet production, raising community awareness on child labor, opening homes and schools for freed child slaves and leading a march for freedom, the “Global March Against Child Labor.”

Over the past fifteen years, the number of child slaves working in carpet factories has gone from one million to 250,000, a significant effort that Satyarthi has been lauded for. This was primarily the result of Satyarthi advocating for the label of fair-trade carpets that have been produced without forced labor.

His label, Goodweave, is the first label for child-labor-free products. Furthermore, he has received support from other companies, such as those that make clothes, shoes and footballs, that pledge to keep their products child-labor-free.

Satyarthi also founded an organization, Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA, which means “Save Childhood”). BBA advocates for laws supporting children’s rights, including education. BBA also conducts raids of factories and organizations that use child labor.

His organization has freed over 83,000 children in India since 1980. During these past 35 years of liberating child slaves, he has received death threats and been personally attacked; furthermore, two of his colleagues were murdered.

Nonetheless, he and BBA have fought relentlessly to improve the lives of children in India. BBA has also opened two homes to educate and support freed child slaves.

Satyarthi’s efforts are aimed at rescue and prevention, which has drastically improved the success of his work. He also focuses on raising awareness of the issue at both international and community levels.

His international work is with Goodweave and his advocacy work, including his “Global March Against Child Labor,” and he also spends time traveling to communities to educate them about the importance of educating children as a means to rise above extreme poverty.

Consequently, thousands of impoverished Indian villages have pledged to go “child friendly” and ensure the education of their children.

Previously, Satyarthi was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2014, in conjunction with Malala Yousafzai. Satyarthi has certainly made significant strides in improving the lives of children in India and hopefully, with the support of the World’s Children’s Prize, Satyarthi can expand the breadth of his work.

Fighting extreme poverty in India includes advocating for education to empower families and help them earn a living and support themselves without endangering the lives of their children.

By prosecuting traffickers of forced child labor, advocating for children’s rights and supporting the children who have been victims, families can have more resources to ensure their well-being and make a living.

Priscilla McCelvey

Sources: UNICEF, World Bank, World’s Children’s Prize
Photo: NPR

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