It has been suggested that the recipients of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize are “safe choices” because they advocate for the rights of children and for the fair and respectful treatment of girls and women.
Advocacy for an end to child labor, for universal education, for strong trade unions, for economic justice and social democracy, and for an end to war and violence should not be controversial.
But it should be noted that this year’s recipients of the world’s most prestigious prize—India’s Kailash Satyarthi and Pakistan’s Malala Yousafzai—are not mild reformers. They are both bold, challenging and, yes, radical, in their language and their approaches. It is necessary to point this out, because all too frequently the citizen recipients of the Peace Prize are presented in soft focus, without a sense of the stances and actions that have gained them global recognition as peacemakers who address the root causes of violence.
Campaigns for the rights of children, for universal access to education, for an end to child slavery and exploitation are radical initiatives that challenge existing political and economic orders—as when Satyarthi, the founder of Bachpan Bachao Andolan (Save the Childhood Movement), rejected simplistic narratives about child labor.
“Children are employed not just because of parental poverty, illiteracy, ignorance, failure of development and education programmes, but quite essentially due to the fact that employers benefit immensely from child labour as children come across as the cheapest option sometimes even for free,” argues Satyarthi, whose organizing, mass marches and long-term work with the International Labour Organization, with the International Labor Rights Forum and trade union movements in India are credited with freeing tens of thousands of children from modern-day slavery. “When a child is bonded to a street restaurant, the employer is usually an ordinary person of some remote village or town,” he explains, in an analysis that invariably brings global trade and the supply chains of multinational corporations into the debate. “But when children are employed in carpet weaving, or the glass industry or the brassware industry, the employers are ‘big’ people. They generate a lot of foreign exchange through exports and are always considered favorably by the government.”