Nobel Laureate Kailash Satyarthi to Become First Indian to Get Harvard Humanitarian Honor

Author: 
Aditi Malhotra
Source: 
The Wall Street Journal

Kailash Satyarthi, who won the Nobel Peace Prize last year for his decadeslong campaign on children’s rights, will become the first Indian to be awarded the title of “Humanitarian of the Year” by the Harvard Foundation.

Mr. Satyarthi will receive the award on Friday during a ceremony hosted at the Harvard University campus in Cambridge, Mass.

“We believe that your notable contributions to Indian child rights deserve special recognition,” wrote S. Allen Counter Jr., director of the Harvard Foundation, in a letter to Mr. Satyarthi inviting him to the ceremony held in his honor.

The Harvard Foundation has been rewarding individuals whose “works and deeds have served to improve the quality of lives” with the humanitarian award since 1984. That year, it was awarded to Martin Luther King Sr., a civil rights leader. The United Nations current Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Pakistani girls education activist Malala Yousafzai, who shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Mr. Satyarthi, are among recent winners.

Mr. Satyarthi, shifted gears from his career as an electrical engineer more than three decades ago to start Bachpan Bachao Andolan, or Save the Childhood Movement, a Delhi-based non-profit that has been working to advance the rights of children in India since 1980. The organization has been instrumental in rescuing more than 80,000 children from forced labor, trafficking and slavery. Read the story of one child saved by the organization here.

Unicef estimates that India is home to a fifth of the world’s child laborers.

In January, Mr. Satyarthi met Barack Obama during the U.S. president’s three-day visit to India to attend the annual Republic Day parade in Delhi. At the time, Mr. Satyarthi told Mr. Obama that he felt “tremendous moral pressure to work even harder than before” after the Nobel win.

One of the 17 new goals set by the United Nations during the Sustainable Development Summit last month asks member states to take measures to “end child labor in all its forms” by 2025. 

Mr. Satyarthi, who aggressively campaigned for issues relating to children’s rights to be included in the new development agenda, wrote in The Hindu, an English daily newspaper Monday: “The World has finally recognized that if child labor, slavery, trafficking, and violence against children continue, we will fail to accomplish any of the other goals.”

“Fortunately, the U.N. SDGs have understood that without child development, human development is impossible,” Mr. Satyarthi wrote. He said he had written to leaders of the 193 U.N. member states asking them to “live up to the promises made to children from the lofty pedestal.”