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India’s Kailash Satyarthi Wins Nobel Peace Prize for Fighting Child Labor

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Updated Saturday, Oct. 11

Since early evening on Friday, many in India were furiously searching the web for the name “Kailash Satyarthi” as it started trending on social media. This was right after the Nobel Prize committee in Sweden announced that Satyarthi, from India, was one of this year’s (and India’s second) Nobel Peace Prize winners.

The highly coveted Nobel Peace Prize goes out every year to trailblazers in world peace and activism. U.S. President Barack Obama, Mother Teresa, the Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama, Burmese political activist Aung San Suu Kyi and anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela are just some of the world’s foremost leaders who have won the award.

See the 20 Most Famous Nobel Peace Prize Laureates

President Obama speaks on healthcare and the Affordable Care Act
Barack Obama, 2009 "For his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples"Brooks Kraft—Corbis
03/25/2006. Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Dortmund.
Mohamed ElBaradei, 2005Shared with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) "for their efforts to prevent nuclear energy from being used for military purposes and to ensure that nuclear energy for peaceful purposes is used in the safest possible way"Patrick Piel—Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images
Aspen Institute Holds Awards Dinner
Jimmy Carter, 2002"For his decades of untiring effort to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights, and to promote economic and social development"Mario Tama—Getty Images
Kofi Annan
Kofi Annan, 2001Shared with the United Nations "for their work for a better organized and more peaceful world"Courtney Kealy—Getty Images
Portrait Of Shimon Peres
Shimon Peres, 1994"To honour a political act which called for great courage on both sides, and which has opened up opportunities for a new development towards fraternity in the Middle East"Thomas Imo—Photothek/Getty Images
Yitzhak Rabin, 1994"To honour a political act which called for great courage on both sides, and which has opened up opportunities for a new development towards fraternity in the Middle East"MENAHEM KAHANA—AFP/Getty Images
File picture of PLO chairman Arafat speaking during the ceremony of the sixth anniversary of the Palestinian declaration of independence
Yasser Arafat, 1994"To honour a political act which called for great courage on both sides, and which has opened up opportunities for a new development towards fraternity in the Middle East"AHMED JADALLAH—Reuters
Nelson Mandela, 1993Shared with Frederik Willem de Klerk "for their work for the peaceful termination of the apartheid regime, and for laying the foundations for a new democratic South Africa"TREVOR SAMSON—AFP/Getty Images
(FILES) Photo dated 23 May 1996 shows My
Aung San Suu Kyi, 1991"For her non-violent struggle for democracy and human rights"EMMANUEL DUNAND—AFP/Getty Images
Mikhail S. Gorbachev
Mikhail Gorbachev, 1990"For his leading role in the peace process which today characterizes important parts of the international community"Diana Walker—The TIME & LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
The Dalai Lama
The Dalai Lama, 1989"In his struggle for the liberation of Tibet [he] consistently has opposed the use of violence. He has instead advocated peaceful solutions based upon tolerance and mutual respect in order to preserve the historical and cultural heritage of his people."Chris Langridge—Sygma/Corbis
Various Writers and Journalists
Desmond Tutu, 1984"[A] renewed recognition of the courage and heroism shown by black South Africans in their use of peaceful methods in the struggle against apartheid"David Levenson—Getty Images
Elie Wiesel at Nobel Peace Prize Press Conference
Elie Wiesel, 1986"His belief that the forces fighting evil in the world can be victorious is a hard-won belief... based on his own personal experience of total humiliation and of the utter contempt for humanity shown in Hitler's death camps"Robert Maass—CORBIS
Mother Teresa, 1979"The loneliest, the most wretched and the dying have, at her hands, received compassion without condescension, based on reverence for man"Jean-Claude FRANCOLON—Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images
Anwar Sadat
Anwar Sedat, 1978"For the Camp David Agreement, which brought about a negotiated peace between Egypt and Israel"Sahm Doherty—The TIME & LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Henry Kissinger
Henry Kissinger, 1973"For the 1973 Paris agreement intended to bring about a cease-fire in the Vietnam war and a withdrawal of the American forces"Diana Walker—Getty Images
Martin Luther King, Jr., 1964"First person in the Western world to have shown us that a struggle can be waged without violence"Gamma-Keystone/Getty Images
Jane Addams, American reformer and feminist
Jane Addams, 1931"[F]or her social reform work" and "leading the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom"Universal History Archive/Getty Images
President Woodrow Wilson in the Oval Office
Woodrow Wilson, 1919"[F]or his crucial role in establishing the League of Nations"Bettmann/Corbis
Theodore Roosevelt
Theodore Roosevelt, 1906"[F]or his successful mediation to end the Russo-Japanese war and for his interest in arbitration, having provided the Hague arbitration court with its very first case"Hulton Archive/Getty Images

But Satyarthi is nowhere as well known as any of them. In fact, he’s even lesser known than his young co-recipient Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teen activist shot in the head by the Taliban while going to school in 2012 and has since been fighting for children’s right to education in her home country and abroad.

But the 60-year-old New Delhi-based activist, originally from the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, has been almost singlehandedly leading India’s fight against child slavery for over three decades. To that end, he founded a grassroots nonprofit, Bachpan Bachao Andolan, or Save Childhood Movement, in 1980, which has to date rescued more than 80,000 Indian children from various forms of exploitation, like child labor and child trafficking.

India has one of the largest working child populations in the world. There are close to 50 million child laborers in the country, more than 10 million of them in bonded labor, having been sold by their families to work off loans they couldn’t repay.

But despite the remarkable success of his organization, Satyarthi, who is trained as an electrical engineer, has preferred working almost anonymously in the backdrop. His work has involved organizing almost weekly raids on Indian manufacturing plants and other workplaces that employ children often forced into bonded labor. Since 2001, Satyarthi’s organization has convinced families in more than 300 Indian villages across 11 states to avoid sending their children to work, and instead put them in school and send them to various youth programs.

“He never wanted his name to come before the work of the organization,” R.S. Chaurasia, chairperson of the movement and Satyarthi’s long time associate, told TIME. “Very few people have the kind of conviction he possesses.”

Satyarthi’s biggest achievement, however, has been to grab and retain the world’s glare on the problem. He organized the Global March Against Child Labor in the 1990s to raise awareness and free millions of children shackled in various forms of modern slavery.

“To employ children is illegal and unethical,” Satyarthi has written on the Global March Against Child Labor website. “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.”

He also founded the widely recognized international tag “RugMark” that guarantees carpets being sold were made in factories free of child labor. India is the largest exporter of handmade carpets and a large number of the weavers are underage child workers. Satyarthi hopes his prize will renew focus on the plight of these children.

“It’s the biggest ever recognition for the struggle of these children and the issue of child labor worldwide,” Satyarthi had told TIME over the phone on Saturday morning. “The amount of conversations it has created around the issue in the last six to seven hours has not been seen in the last 600 years!”

In one of his initial reactions to the award, Satyarthi told an Indian news channel that he hopes the recognition will once again bring and keep the spotlight on the exploitation of children globally. In India, for sure, the often-fringe topic of child labor has gained some mainstream clout—and Satyarthi’s Nobel prize will only bring more.

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