When a young reader wrote about a future Nobel Peace Prize winner

On October 10, children’s rights campaigner Kailash Satyarthi of India was named as co-winner (with Pakistan’s Malala Yousafzai) of the Nobel Peace Prize. A couple of days later, Commonweal reader William Spielberger wrote to remind us of a letter to the editor that appeared in our October 20, 1995, issue. The letter was from his (then) ten-year-old son Joey—“all right,” as William writes, “Joseph, now a thirty-year-old graduate of Villanova Law School”—who had recently met Satyarthi on a trip to India with his father. Here, in full, is what Joey wrote to Commonweal in 1995:

I was watching a Chicago Cubs baseball game on television when my dad came downstairs and read to me the article in Commonweal by Abigail McCarthy on child labor (“Pulling the Rug Out” [.pdf], September 22, 1995).

On May 1, 1995, I participated in my first demonstration. I am almost eleven years old and in the fifth grade. I live in Chicago, but the demonstration was in New Delhi, India, when it was 100 degrees.

The demonstration involved kids from all over India who carried signs saying, “Stop Child Labour” and “Child Labour Is a Cruse (this is how it was written on the sign) on Humanity.”

Many of the kids had worked in carpet factories for twelve or fourteen hours a day, every day of the year, for many years. A lot of them didn’t get any money at all. But a few were fortunate enough to get a little, like about six or seven dollars (or 200 rupees) a year. But that money went to pay off the debts of their families. If the boys did not do their work, they were beaten. Sometimes their fathers got beaten too, when they tried to free their sons.

I met some of the older boys in the demonstration when my dad and I went in a motor rickshaw to the Mukti Ashram, a place where boys who had been freed from the factories learn how to read and to do something other than weave carpets. The head of the Ashram is a man named Kailash Satyarthi who freed many of the boys. Some of the boys had been kidnapped to work in the factories, and some did not know their own age.

The rugs that the boys made go to Europe and the United States, and they are very expensive. But if the rug has the “Rugmark” logo (a rug with a smiley face on it), it means that the rug was not made by a child slave.


Chicago, Ill.

William Spielberger reports that his son subsequently returned to India three or four times, including a semester in northern India, all the time focusing on child-related issues. “He met with Kailash and his staff as late as a year or two ago …. Joey tells me that now he is trying to set up a meeting with Kailash and Illinois Senator Durbin.” Nineteen years to the day that the issue featuring Joey Spielberger’s letter appeared in print, we’re happy we can re-run it here.

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