Nobel Laureate Has Iowa Friends

Dec 9, 2014

One of the two laureates receiving the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize for his work in children’s rights was nominated by U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin.

Iowa's junior senator met Kailash Satyarthi in 1991 after becoming involved in combating child slavery. Harkin says in addition to policy and advocacy work, Satyarthi has participated in daring rescue missions. 

"What he would do is he would get people together, he would find a factory where he would find these bonded kids working in bad conditions," Harkin says. "He would go there, and they would go in and rescue these kids, hurry them out, put them in their trucks and bring them back to his sanctuary."

Harkin has been nominating Satyarthi for 10 years, though the senator says when he first broached the topic to Satyarthi, the laureate was very modest about his work. 

"I nominated him in 2005, didn’t get anywhere....in 2006 I renominated him," Harkin says. "Then I started bringing in more people."

Other backers for Satyarthi include the International Labour Organization, which won the peace prize in 1969, and University of Iowa law professor Lea VanderVelde, who studies the legal history of slavery in the U.S. 

According to the Nobel Institute, there are 168 million child laborers around the world. In 2000, the figure was 78 million higher. 

Harkin, who is retiring from the Senate in January, says he plans to continue work on combating child slavery through Drake University's Harkin Institute. 

The Nobel Peace Prize's other 2014 laureate is 17-year-old Malala Yousafzai, who was shot in the face by the Taliban for speaking out in favor of women's education.