Nobel laureate Kailash Satyarthi calls on Harvard community to help fight child labor

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Kailash Satyarthi, left, with moderators Mintoo Bhandari and Vinni Nahata Bhandari

By Amy Roeder

(Editor’s note: This article is reprinted from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health news. Photos by Lisa Abitbol)

In shaky, handheld camera footage from the film The Price of Free, Kailash Satyarthi and colleagues burst into an urban Indian factory, demanding, “Where are the children?” They run through the building in a desperate search, before finally finding a group of scared young boys hiding among bags of product. “Those who think that slavery has been abolished,” Satyarthi says in the clip, “they are wrong.”

Satyarthi spoke at a screening of clips from the film—a documentary about his fight against child labor and exploitation—at Harvard’s Sanders Theatre on September 27, 2019. The event was sponsored by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the Faculty of Arts & Sciences.

Dean Michelle Williams
Dean Michelle Williams

In introductory remarks, Harvard Chan Dean Michelle Williams spoke about the physical and mental health toll on the 152 million children forced to work in factories, brothels, and other dangerous settings in countries including the U.S. She said that she hoped that the film would raise awareness, the first step toward addressing a crisis.

Satyarthi founded the organization Bachpan Bachao Andolan (Save Childhood Movement) in 1980, which has gone on to free more than 80,000 children from forced labor. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014 for his work.

During a discussion following the screening, he shared success stories of a few of the children he has helped, including a young man in India who became a lawyer and took on an exploited girl as his first client. Satyarthi encouraged the many students in the audience to educate themselves about child labor, and to demand supply chain transparency and accountability from companies.

Audience members
Audience members in Harvard’s Sanders Theatre

“We’d like to see universities become strong champions for the cause,” he told the Harvard Gazette in an interview prior to the event. “My mission in life is that every child on the earth is free; free to walk to school, free to laugh, free to play. When every child is free to be a child, only then my dream will come true.”

Kailash Satyarthi with young activists
Kailash Satyarthi with young activists

Before inviting audience members on stage to take a selfie with him, Satyarthi concluded his remarks with a folk tale that he said inspires him: When a forest catches on fire, most of its animal inhabitants run away, complain, and despair. But a hummingbird decides to do what she can to help, filling her small beak with water to try to extinguish the flames drop by drop. In doing so, she inspires others to join in to tackle a seemingly insurmountable problem one small piece at a time.

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