Kailash Satyarthi

Ashoka Fellow
Fellow Since 1995
Bachpan Bachao Andolan


This profile was prepared when Kailash Satyarthi was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1995.
The New Idea
Since the reason for hiring bonded child labor is profit (it is less expensive than adult labor), Kailash Satyarthi knew that he had to counter the abusive practice with a strategy that was also economic. Thus, he initiated a multifaceted movement that punishes the perpetrators with a loss of market share while rewarding those who restructure their enterprises away from a dependence on child labor. In a matter of a few years, Kailash's organization, the South Asian Coalition Against Child Servitude, has already become South Asia's most effective lobby for boycotting the products of manufacturers who employ child labor.

Kailash's most visible work centers on the carpet industry–the region's most expensive export item. He created the Rugmark Foundation to monitor, certify and affix labels on carpets guaranteeing that they have not been made by bonded children and are eligible for export. Carpet manufacturers must be licensed by the Foundation to use the Rugmark logo. The Board of Directors of the Foundation is comprised of representatives of citizens' organizations, the Indo-German Export Promotion Program, UNICEF and the Carpet Manufacturers Association without Child Labour, an association representing half of the carpet manufacturers and exporters in India.

The Foundation complements its activism by offering an alternative to the families of the child debt slaves. It seeks to replace bonded children in carpet-making units by promoting the employment of adults in the industry and ensuring that they will be paid the established minimum wages and additional benefits that Labour Acts accord them. This could alleviate adult unemployment in the region, bring stability to household budgets and increase worker productivity. The Foundation also wants to promote and further the trade prospects of establishments that are committed to the Rugmark Foundation criteria in the national and international markets.

Kailash also seeks to broaden the scope of the Rugmark Foundation's work from the carpet-making industry to the brick making, brassware, fireworks, handloom and other industries that are completely dependent, as they are currently structured, on child labor. At the local level, Kailash's organization has launched the BachPan Bachao Andolan. Translated, this means the Movement to Rescue Childhood. So far, the South Asian Coalition Against Child Servitude is responsible for the release of more than 40,000 bonded laborers of whom 27,000 have been children. Approximately 7,000 have been rescued from the carpet-making industry alone. Children and parents in bondage have been released through direct intervention and raids, by legal court intervention and even by the highest court of the country.

Kailash has also set up a transitional skill-building and leadership-training program for the recently released children at his vocational training center, Mukti Ashram. The program is designed to equip the children with vocational skills with which they can build a lifetime career. Children are also trained to create awareness of debt slavery among vulnerable peer groups in their communities so they can avoid the manipulations of contractors who lure children into bonded labor with promises of high economic return. These children become effective social agents and role models who return to their villages as potential liberators. In this way, Kailash is helping to break the cycle before it begins.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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