Peace Prize laureate calls on Iowans to stand against child labor

Kailash Satyarthi thanks community for once protecting his family

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Editor’s Note: Reporter Alison Gowans was roommates with Kailash Satyarthi’s daughter for a year at the University of Iowa.

IOWA CITY — Nobel Peace Prize laureate Kailash Satyarthi of India has helped free more than 80,000 child slaves from bondage and led efforts to protect children worldwide. But when his own daughter’s life was threatened for his efforts, it was former U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa, who helped keep his family safe.

Speaking at the University of Iowa’s Memorial Union Tuesday as part of the UI 2016 Lecture Series, Satyarthi told the story of how his longtime friend Harkin — who along with UI law professor Lea VanderVelde nominated Satyarthi to the Nobel selection committee — had arranged for his children to come to Iowa and for his daughter Asmita to attend the University of Iowa after child traffickers threatened to kidnap her and physically attacked him and his son, sending them to the hospital.

“Today I’m here to express my gratitude and thanks the University of Iowa,” he said.

He was also there to call on the community to keep protecting children the way they once did his family.

Satyarthi, who won the Peace Prize in 2014, gave a passionate speech about the power of social movements to effect change, telling stories about a worldwide children’s march he and Harkin helped organize in 1998. That march helped put pressure on world governments to pass an international treaty in 1999 to outlaw the worst forms of child labor, he said.

However, child labor, human trafficking and modern-day slavery are still prevalent — Satyarthi said 168 million child laborers remain worldwide.

“We cannot call ourselves free and human if one single child is bought and sold like an animal,” he said. “We have to think and act globally. This is the time.”

Satyarthi called on students and the public to join his new “100 Million for 100 Million” campaign, which he plans to launch in India in December, followed by an international campaign.

The idea, he said, is for 100 million young people who have access to education and other benefits to take action on behalf of the more than 100 million children who are denied basic education and human rights.

In an interview with The Gazette before his lecture, Satyarthi expanded on his vision of connecting the world’s youth to close the gap between the “haves” and “have-nots” and creating a more equitable society.

“The young people are full of energy and enthusiasm and have strong elements of idealism and compassion for others,” he said. “We can channel this unprecedented energy for shaping the world.”

On Thursday, the lecture series continues with head of communications and chief spokeswoman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Melissa Fleming. She is to speak at 7:30 p.m. in the Senate Chamber of the Old Capitol Building, 1 N. Clinton St. in Iowa City.

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