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February 05, 2015

Contemporary Abolitionist of the Month: Kailash Satyarthi

By Emily Balan

The fight to end slavery is rooted in history and extends until today. Each month we will profile some of the brave men and women, both contemporary and historical, who have fought to eradicate slavery. Our contemporary abolitionist of the month is Kailash Satyarthi.

Kailash Satyarthi was 26 years old when he left his job in electrical engineering in 1980 to help the millions of people who have been forced into slavery in India. In 2014 he received the Nobel Peace Prize for his work.

Slavery is rampant in India, where 20 to 65 million citizens are trafficked and forced into debt bondage, often coerced through sexual or other violence.

In his early work, Satyarthi organized dangerous raids on guarded factories, where entire families were often held captive. But Satyarthi knew he must do more than free these slaves—he also helped them start anew.

Satyarthi worked with the South Asian Coalition on Child Servitude (SACCS), an organization that has helped free almost 40,000 bonded laborers in various industries since 1980. Within SACCS, Satyarthi launched the Bal Mitra Gram program to expand their efforts to teach newly freed slaves basic skills for successful new lives. Bal Mitra Gram recruits entire Indian villages to pledge that no child be put to work and that every child attend school.

Empowering children through education village by village is a slow process. That’s why Satyarthi embarked on a mission to employ market forces to curb the demand for child labor. Since many rug-making factories enslave children, he started Rugmark, a program that educates consumers on how these rugs are made. Currently, he’s working on expanding this program to other industries.

Satyarthi has dedicated his life to helping millions of enslaved children, who are mainly targeted by business and landowners. The United States can support Satyarthi’s cause by weakening every link of the human trafficking supply chain and putting traffickers out of business in the $150 billion industry.

Human Rights First is working to bankrupt slavery. We aim to make the industry less profitable and more risky for exploiters through harsher punishment and a diminished market. We seek to disrupt the business of human trafficking.

“If not now, then when? If not you, then who? If we are able to answer these fundamental questions, then perhaps we can wipe away the blot of human slavery.” – Kailash Satyarthi