News Overview 2015

Child Labor Activist Satyarthi Visits Stuttgart

Kailash Satyarthi wowed thousands of guests at the first “Stuttgart Dialog” held at the Theaterhaus Stuttgart. Joachim Dorfs of the Stuttgarter Zeitung and young reporters asked the charismatic Nobel Peace Prize laureate about his fight against child labor.
Around the world, there are still 168 million children working full-time - in textile factories, in quarries, and in the fields. "1.2 million children are sold like animals every year," said Kailash Satyarthi, the first guest speaker in the "Stuttgarter Gespräche" (Stuttgart Dialogs) series of events initiated by the Robert Bosch Stiftung and the Stuttgarter Zeitung newspaper. "But we’re making progress," he continued, saying that if we carry on in the same vein as in the past 25 years, we could put an end to this misery. Many of the children he has rescued from forced labor are now liberators and teachers themselves, he reported. "That’s the best thing about this work."

This charismatic 61-year-old comes across as being unpretentious and modest, jovial and humorous. He finds it especially easy to engage with young people, chatting to them and taking a selfie before getting down to work - it’s child’s play. Joachim Dorfs, editor in chief of the Stuttgarter Zeitung, started by inquiring about the circumstances of his risky work. "Many of the children have never seen sunlight," explained Satyarthi. He reported that many died of exhaustion before being found or worked on cocoa plantations but had never tasted chocolate. Sometimes their only wish is to be able to kick a soccer ball just once. "The most important thing is to give the children their dreams back," emphasized Satyarthi.

"When I free a child, I liberate myself"

Freeing the children is dangerous, he explained, "but somebody has to do it." Behind all the scars on his body are stories of standing up to slave owners and corrupt police officers, he said. He has incurred a spinal column injury and he has difficulty lifting one of his arms. "But when I free a child, I liberate myself - it’s a spiritual feeling. And when I look into the eyes of a mother whose child I am bringing back, I see the eyes of God." Satyarthi is a trained electrical engineer. But from an early age, he knew he wasn’t destined to earn a living in that kind of profession, he explained. He wanted to make a difference.

On October 10, 2014, Satyarthi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize together with the Pakistani children’s rights activist Malala Yousafzai. He was initially outshone by the young girl, who, at 18, became the youngest-ever Nobel Prize laureate in the award’s 115-year history. But now people flock to him, and in June, the passionate preacher captivated thousands of church congress attendees in the Schleyer-Halle.

The event moderator Joachim Dorfs was assisted by young third- and fourth-grade reporters from the Heusteigschule school, who interviewed the guest on stage. Eric Ferdinand (7) wanted to know whether his life had changed since receiving the award. "A little," said Satyarthi, explaining that he still wore the same clothes, still lived in the same two-room apartment, was still a vegetarian, and neither smoked nor drank - but now spoke with the world’s most powerful people "on behalf of the children." He had received 17,000 invitations in 12 months, he said, and would need another 92 years to get through them all. Meriam Hammami (9) asked whether his life had ever been in danger. "Many times," answered Satyarthi. He himself is a father of two, and his son, who is an attorney, was attacked with serious consequences.

Not Insignificant Future Plans

The schoolchildren came up with the questions they asked in a joint effort. Mathilde Kohlrausch (9) inquired about his future plans. Satyarthi responded that he wanted no less than to trigger a global wave of enthusiasm with the children, who he calls the "champions of tomorrow," in order to "create the most wonderful and most peaceful world possible." He called upon the entire audience to immediately spread his message via Facebook and to be sensitized to products that are manufactured humanely. In response to further questions from adults, Satyarthi said he held India’s caste system, the urban-rural divide, and the differences in the country’s digitalization responsible for the discrimination of children, in particular in India.

With the Stuttgart Dialogs, the Robert Bosch Stiftung and the Stuttgarter Zeitung aim to bring outstanding individuals to Stuttgart, said Uta-Micaela Dürig, the Foundation’s Chief Executive Officer. The inaugural event set the bar high: the popular award winner was given a standing ovation and there was much cheering.

(Matthias Schiermeyer, Stuttgarter Zeitung, October 2015)