Kailash Satyarthi (born on January 11, 1954) is a human rights activist from India who has been at the forefront of the global movement to end child slavery and exploitation since 1980, when he gave up a lucrative career as an electrical engineer to initiate a crusade against child servitude. As a grass-roots activist, Kailash and the grassroot movement founded by him, Bachpan Bachao Andolan (English: Save Childhood Movement), have liberated more than 83,000 children from exploitation and developed a successful model for their education, rehabilitation and reintegration into the mainstream society. As a worldwide campaigner, he has been the architect of the single largest civil society network for the most exploited children, the Global March Against Child Labour, which is a worldwide coalition of children’s rights organisations, teachers’ unions and trade unions. His efforts led to the adoption of ILO Convention 182 on worst forms of child labour in 1999. He is also the founding president of the Global Campaign for Education, an exemplar civil society movement working to end the global education crisis and GoodWeave International for raising consumer awareness and positive action in the carpet industry.
Kailash has always been of the firm view that child labour is an issue that affects the developed world much as it does the developing world. Kailash felt that there was a dire need for an international law on policy against the worst forms of child labour. In 1996 he put forth to the world a proposal for such a law. The very same year he innovatively conceptualised the Global March Against Child Labour, organised in 1998 across 103 countries with 7.2 million participants. This was one of the biggest mass mobilisation campaigns in history. The participation of children in the march was unprecedented and they were the real icons of this movement. On June 2, 1998, for the first time in the history of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), civil society under the leadership of Kailash was permitted to enter the Palais des Nations (Geneva headquarters of the United Nations). Children along with Kailash walked in and addressed labour ministers and leaders of employer and labour organisations, demanding a special convention on the worst forms of child labour. This ultimately triggered the discussions on the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention (No. 182), which was finally adopted by the ILO in 1999. This was big victory for all the civil society organisations under the flagship of the Global March Against Child Labour, but Kailash did not stop at this. He along with his partners in over 140 countries launched a worldwide campaign aimed at universal ratification of this Convention. As a result, this legislation was quickly and widely ratified.
- By Bhavya Bhatia