Kailash Satyarthi, recipient of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize, will travel to Silicon Valley for a two-day visit beginning May 6, where he will engage with the Indian Diaspora and leading local and Indian-American community leaders from the region.
Asked about the purpose of his trip, Satyarthi explains, “I am visiting Silicon Valley to put a spotlight on the problems of child labor, slavery and other forms of exploitation that continue to take place around the world. While I am here, I will be highlighting the work that has been done over the last several decades toward ending child labor, and how we are planning to scale up the lessons learned from the ground through the Kailash Satyarthi Children’s Foundation in the United States, India and around the world.”
Ray Umanshankar, one of the organizers of the trip observes, “Kailash Satyarthi has dedicated his life to the rescue and rehabilitation of trafficked and enslaved children. His U.S visit will help garner attention to the magnitude of child slavery globally.”
A tireless advocate of children’s rights, Satyarthi has spent the last 36 years rescuing more than 85,000 children from exploitation in India while pioneering the country’s first child protection laws. Beginning in 1981, Mr. Satyarthi and his colleagues began to personally liberate enslaved child laborers from dangerous working conditions and trafficking across India, oftentimes at great risk to their own safety.
The numbers surrounding child labor and exploitation are revealing and disturbing in equal measure. According to the International Labor Organization 168 million child laborers exist worldwide. Of those, 85 million are engaged in hazardous work, 5.5 million are enslaved and 1.2 million are trafficked every year.
Nearly twenty years ago, Satyarthi conceptualized an idea of a global awareness campaign to highlight the child labor epidemic plaguing India and the rest of the world, and to advocate for the need for an international treaty banning it in its worst forms. The result was a physical march on five continents with over 7.3 million participants. This led to the adoption and ratification of the ILO Convention 182 in 1999, calling for an end to child labor and slavery. The Global March Against Child Labor galvanized unions, civil society and most importantly, children, to produce lasting, sustainable change.
The result has been a reduction in child labor from 250 million in 1998 to 168 million as a result of the Global March Against Child Labor, ILO Convention 182 and the work of partner organizations around the world. Mr. Satyarthi’s tireless efforts advocating for global policy on these issues has been credited with protecting children from all over the world from the worst forms of abuse and exploitation. His activism catalyzed an international movement which now enjoys millions of supporters ranging from grassroots activists to heads of state.
In 2014, the international community recognized Mr. Satyarthi’s transformational work by jointly awarding him and Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousef the Nobel Peace Prize for their “struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education.”
The Nobel Peace Prize further reaffirmed Mr. Satyarthi’s resolve to end child slavery around the world and to increase children’s access to quality education. Toward this end, in 2015, he founded the Kailash Satyarthi Children’s Foundation with an aim “to build a world where every child is free, healthy and in school.”
The motivating principle underlying the Foundation is to “take thirty-five years of work in the field—from rescuing and rehabilitating children, to prioritizing children in national and international policy to building public and corporate awareness—and scaling it from a grassroots level to a global level.”
In many ways, Silicon Valley is a natural starting point for the Nobel laureate to raise awareness of his new foundation. The region has a long and well-established track record of charitable work. Many of the area’s leading entrepreneurs and tech-giants are also the country’s leading philanthropists.
M.R. Rangaswami, a Silicon Valley veteran asserts, “The region is filled with innovators and disruptors who also want to do good. Satyarthi will get a unique perspective of what drives these people and how some of these new technologies can assist his work. With the ubiquity of mobile phones in India, for example, there could be some interesting products that could be used in his efforts dealing with child labor issues.”
Satyarthi acutely understands the transformative power of technology in this connected and globalized world to achieve the Foundation’s objectives. He notes that in the twenty or so years since the Global March Against Child Labor, “the world has become far more connected.” The Internet was still in its infancy and cell phones were a luxury in most of the world. By contrast, 6 billion of the world’s 7 billion now people have access to cell phones, and 3 billion have Internet access, according to the UN.
“This is one of the many reasons I firmly believe the time for mobilizing again and on a scale like never before has come,” Satyarthi explains. “My mission is to end child labor in my lifetime and I feel that the innovations that Silicon Valley prizes itself on can play a significant role in developing creative approaches to these problems.”
The message is one that is likely to resonate with a wide variety of audiences across the region. George Pinto, co-founder of non-profit Goa Sudharop and another trip organizer notes, “Kailash Satyathi’s work reminds us that all societies need to care for their most vulnerable first: those scores of children who are forgotten and exploited in the global economy. Ultimately, 160 million children worldwide are waiting to be rescued from slavery, bonded labor and trafficking. Mr. Satyarthi is helping shorten their excruciating wait.”