Chennai-based child rights advocate Lalitha Natarajan wins US’s Iqbal Masih Award


Chennai-based lawyer-activist Lalitha Natarajan has been awarded the 2023 Iqbal Masih Award for the Elimination of Child Labor, the US Consulate in Chennai said on Tuesday.

US Consul General Judith Ravin presented the award to Natarajan at a ceremony at the US Consulate General in Chennai on May 30. Natarajan has worked throughout her career as a lawyer and activist to apply rights-based approaches to child labor.

As a leader in the fight to end exploitative child labor in southern India, she identifies child victims of trafficking, specifically bonded labor, assisting in their reintegration into society, according to a statement.

As a member of the Child Welfare Committee (North Zone), under the Department of Social Defense, Government of Tamil Nadu, she ensures victims receive compensation under the Child Labor Act and Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO).

Besides working on child labor issues, Lalitha also provides legal and counselling support to victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse.

The Iqbal Masih Award is a US Congress-mandated, non-monetary award established by the Secretary of Labor in 2008 that honours extraordinary contributions to combat child labor.

The Iqbal Masih Award honors its namesake, a Pakistani child sold into slavery as a carpet weaver at age 4 who escaped his captors at 10. Iqbal Masih became an outspoken public advocate against child exploitation for which he received numerous human rights awards until he was tragically killed in 1995 at the age of 12.

The award commemorates World Day Against Child Labor observed on June 12 every year to raise awareness and activism to prevent child labor.

At the awards ceremony in Chennai held on May 30, attended by children’s rights advocates, US Consul General Judith Ravin said, “The battle against bonded labor is a high priority for the US government and the American people. Today we have the special privilege of presenting the United States Department of Labor’s 2023 Iqbal Masih Award for the Elimination of Child Labor to Lalitha Natarajan, who is a true champion.”

“Her courageous efforts have contributed to obtaining social justice for India’s young people and most vulnerable populations. For over two decades, she has rescued children from forced labor in various industrial sectors across the state of Tamil Nadu, ranging from stone quarries to food processing factories to handloom mills,” she added.

“This award recognizes the life work of Lalitha Natarajan that has brought real change to the lives of hundreds of Indian children,” CG Ravin added.

Natarajan said, “I feel honoured to receive the prestigious Iqbal Masih Award for the Elimination of Child Labor from the US Department of Labor. This award will further motivate me to work for the cause of children. As a member of the Child Welfare Committee, I work closely with various State and Central government departments, judiciary, and police to ensure child rights offenders are convicted.”

“For this reason, I engage with human rights institutions to ensure that the First Information Report (FIR) is registered by the police, ensuring that the crime is indeed recognized. I especially want to recognize the child survivors of trafficking and bonded labor that I have fought for over many years and wish them peace,” she added.

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