Nominations for the 2023 award are due February 17th!
The United States Department of Labor's Bureau of International Labor Affairs (ILAB) solicits nominations for the U.S. Department of Labor Iqbal Masih Award for the Elimination of Child Labor.
The Iqbal Masih Award is a non-monetary award presented annually by the U.S. Secretary of Labor and administered by ILAB's Office of Child Labor, Forced Labor and Human Trafficking. This page outlines the eligibility criteria, the nomination process and the administrative procedures for this award.
The Iqbal Masih Award was named after a Pakistani child who was sold into slavery as a carpet weaver at age 4, escaped at 10 and became an outspoken public advocate against child exploitation. In 1994 he received the Reebok Human Rights Award. He was tragically killed a year later at the age of 12 in his native Pakistan.
The purpose of the award is to recognize exceptional efforts to reduce the worst forms of child labor—in view of inspiring and motivating others working toward this end. The award's two major goals are:
- To honor and give public recognition to a recipient demonstrating extraordinary efforts to combat the worst forms of child labor internationally, and who shares qualities demonstrated by Iqbal Masih including leadership, courage, integrity, and a search to end the labor exploitation of children
- To raise awareness about the worst forms of child labor internationally
The award was created in response to Senate Committee direction that the Secretary of Labor "establish an annual non-monetary award recognizing the extraordinary efforts by an individual, company, organization or national government toward the reduction of the worst forms of child labor."
Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation has been working to end human trafficking in Vietnam for nearly 20 years. The organization is a leader in supporting trafficking survivors, partnering with government, and creating safe spaces for vulnerable youth. Blue Dragon has rescued over 1,000 children and adults from human trafficking and has sent nearly 6,000 children back to school and training. The organization also works closely with local law enforcement and the Government of Vietnam to identify offenders and interrupt trafficking rings within Vietnam and abroad. Blue Dragon stands as the vanguard for progress to end the worst forms of child labor and has been recognized globally for their work.
Norma Flores López
For nearly 20 years, Flores López has been a leader in the fight to end exploitative child labor. She has led the Child Labor Coalition's Domestic Issues Committee for the last decade in support of improved protections for child farmworkers and other vulnerable children. Her work on the committee has helped more than a dozen organizations leverage resources and engage in the fight against child labor.
International Labor Organization
The ILO has been a central figure in the global fight against child labor abuses since its October 1919 founding. The organization establishes international standards, collects critical data and conducts in-depth research. It operates in more than 90 countries to raise awareness, build capacity and bring hope to hundreds of thousands of vulnerable children and their families.
Damon Wamara is the Executive Director of Dwelling Places, an NGO focused on rehabilitating child victims of human trafficking for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation and forced begging on the streets of Kampala, Uganda.
Mr. Wamara and his team worked tirelessly to rescue over 1,800 child trafficking victims. These children were then reunited with their families and enrolled in schools, including Dwelling Places’ catch-up education program, which offered education to those who had never attended school.
Mr. Wamara and his organization actively raised awareness of the prevalence of child trafficking through engagement with regional and international organizations.
In 2018, his efforts spurred an exposé revealing a market in mid-eastern Uganda where human traffickers auctioned children to bidders for as low as $5. Mr. Wamara also collaborated with community leaders to create anti-trafficking committees advocating against allowing children to be taken to Kampala for work. His dedication has led to the creation of nine Child Rights clubs in Karamoja region schools, teaching children to stay in school and to defend their rights.
Since 1992, Casa Esperanza has been working to combat child labor in Panama. It was the first Panamanian organization to launch a child labor eradication campaign for Panama’s coffee sector and encouraged over 30 farms to adopt labor inspection protocols, benefitting over 10,000 children and decreasing child labor in the coffee sector by more than 40 percent.
The organization’s initiatives and reports have also been fundamental to the removal of sugarcane from USDOL’s 2018 List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor. Casa Esperanza’s efforts have led to the identification of vulnerable populations through the coordination of more than 25 educational campaigns, which exposed abuses and resulted in the ultimate removal of more than 40,000 children from labor in Panama.
Casa Esperanza’s leadership and dedication has been instrumental in empowering the Government of Panama on achieving its mission of eradicating child labor by 2025.
Stephanie Odegard (India)
Ms. Odegard’s campaign and commitment to end child and bonded labor served as a model for others in the South Asian carpet sector and other businesses.
In 1987, she began Odegard carpets and set a goal of ensuring child labor and bonded labor-free looms. She later joined forces with GoodWeave, founded by Kailash Satyarthi, an internationally recognized organization working to eliminate child labor in in global supply chains.
Her efforts contributed to a nearly two-thirds reduction of child labor in the sector in South Asia and rescued almost 6,000 children from labor. In addition, under her direction, Odegard carpets contributed a small fee to GoodWeave for every rug it sold, which totaled more than $500,000 in contributions for education and prevention programs for almost 26,000 children in Nepal, Afghanistan, and India.
Teresa Martinez Acosta (Paraguay)
Minister Martínez Acosta’s efforts as a prosecutor highlighted the importance of enforcing child labor laws and government action to eliminate child labor. During her time as the Lead Prosecutor for the Paraguayan government’s Specialized Anti-Trafficking in Persons Unit, she led investigations and raids that freed hundreds of victims from exploitation — including children — leading to dozens of arrests and prosecutions.
To help the victims, she set up effective coordination mechanisms within the government and law enforcement to give victims expedited social protection benefits and provide comprehensive services. Her efforts to protect the most vulnerable made her a leading voice in the campaign against child labor and trafficking in Paraguay.
In 2017, then-Secretary of Labor selected Ms. Daphne de Guzman Culanag to receive the Iqbal Masih Award in recognition of her tireless efforts to protect children from exploitation, raise awareness, and inspire others in the fight against child labor in the Philippines.
Known affectionately as Ate Daphne (Big Sister Daphne) in the Philippine communities where she works, Ms. Culanag earned this term of respect over more than three decades of activism and leadership in the fight against child labor. Ms. Culanag’s efforts helped change the lives of more than 50,000 children engaged in or at risk of child labor. Her leadership of projects to end child labor in the Philippine sugarcane sector and footwear industry inspired others to continue efforts to eliminate child labor by promoting education opportunities and helping households overcome the need to rely on child labor to meet basic needs. Ms. Culanag led the charge to mobilize communities, families, and the Philippine government to commit to transforming the lives of children vulnerable to child labor.
Like Iqbal Masih, who escaped after 5 years chained to a carpet loom to travel the world and speak out against child labor, Ms. Culanag carried her voice to the highest levels of government around the world. She has been an advocate for exploited children and demanded accountability from government officials when their actions were not sufficient to address these abuses. She has worked to improve the legislative framework to protect children against labor exploitation in the Philippines. Her activism planted seeds of inspiration and local youth and staff she has mentored have gone on to lead efforts in the fight to end exploitative child labor in their own communities and around the globe.
Ms. Culanag was the ninth recipient of this nonmonetary award.
At 13, Sonia Pierre began her stand for workers’ rights in the Dominican Republic, leading a march to demand humane working conditions for sugar cane harvesters in the “batey” – the worker settlement in which she grew up.
From the single-room, dirt-floor barrack she shared with 12 siblings and her mother, Pierre’s journey took her to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, where her powerful testimony helped lead to a landmark decision protecting children whose lack of legal status in their country of birth left them vulnerable to exploitation. The Yean and Bosico case was aimed at reforming the country’s birth registration system and set a precedent regarding the legal status of migrant-descendant children.
Pierre, who passed away in 2011, led the struggle against violence and discrimination against Haitians and Dominican children of Haitian descent. Despite threats and intimidation, Sonia fought for children’s access to educational opportunities and nationality. She established an NGO, “Movement for Dominican Women of Haitian Descent,” to help empower these women and their communities. Her efforts brought attention to the link between a lack of nationality and increased vulnerability to child labor and labor exploitation.
The legacy of Pierre has inspired a generation of youth to continue her work to secure legal identity documentation and educational opportunities.
The U.S. Department of Labor recognized Alain-Georges Moukoko, a prosecutor from Gabon by awarding its 2015 Iqbal Masih Award for the Elimination of Child Labor. “Having worked to prosecute human traffickers early in my career, I have great appreciation for the difficulties of bringing the perpetrators of these crimes to justice,” said then-U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez. “Mr. Moukoko’s fearlessness, his tenacity and his compassion for his country’s most vulnerable are an inspiration, and I am honored to recognize him for his noble work.”
Mr. Moukoko rescued children from work in domestic servitude, smoked fish production, sand quarries, brick factories and other sectors. At his own expense, he helped feed these children and transported them to shelters across the country, eventually returning them to their homes or a safe environment. His work contributed to the first-ever conviction of child-traffickers in Gabon. He also worked with INTERPOL to mount legal cases against exploiters and child-traffickers residing abroad.
Through his efforts, Mr. Moukoko helped dismantle several forced labor and trafficking rings. He has been instrumental in holding perpetrators accountable for child labor exploitation, and in doing so, has sent the message that such practices cannot be tolerated. He has also trained public officials about Gabon’s laws against trafficking of children for labor exploitation, and about how to identify and assist trafficking victims.
Then-U.S. Ambassador to Gabon Cynthia Akuetteh presented Mr. Moukoko with the award at a ceremony at the U.S. Embassy in Libreville.
Then-U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez presented the Honorable Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa as the recipient of the department’s 2014 Iqbal Masih Award for the Elimination of Child Labor.
Then-Secretary Perez selected Sen. Harkin in recognition of his global leadership in mobilizing governments, the public and the private sector to eradicate the worst forms of child labor worldwide. In 1999, Sen. Harkin played an instrumental role in securing support for the United States’ ratification of International Labor Organization Convention 182 on the worst forms of child labor, which resulted in unprecedented commitments by signatory countries to take urgent actions to address child labor. Throughout his Senate career, Sen. Harkin has supported legislation to help increase awareness of child labor globally and government actions to eliminate the worst forms of child labor. Sen. Harkin was a key proponent of the issuance of Executive Order 13126 during the Clinton administration, which is intended to ensure that U.S. federal agencies do not procure goods made by forced or indentured child labor.
In West Africa, Sen. Harkin has been a driving force in bringing together the governments of Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, the international chocolate and cocoa industry, and civil society actors to help reduce child labor in cocoa production. His efforts resulted in the signing of the Harkin-Engel Protocol in 2001, a landmark voluntary commitment by cocoa industry leaders to address the worst forms of child labor in the West African cocoa sector. In 2010, he was influential in securing further commitments from public- and private-sector stakeholders to expand actions to address this issue through a Declaration of Joint Action, signed by the National Confectioners Association and the governments of Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and the United States.
In announcing the award, then-Secretary Perez said, “Senator Tom Harkin is our champion in the fight to end child labor, and his passion, his energy and his unprecedented commitment to stopping abusive practices has resonated across America and across the globe. He gives voice to all the working children who cannot speak up for themselves, who cannot protest the hazards and dangers they are forced to endure. The department is honored to present this award to Tom Harkin.”
Carol Pier, then-deputy undersecretary for the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of International Labor Affairs, announced Isidro León-York of Nicaragua as the recipient of the department's 2013 Iqbal Masih Award for the Elimination of Child Labor. U.S. Ambassador to Nicaragua Phyllis M. Powers presented the award to Mr. León-York at a ceremony today in Managua.
Then-U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez selected León-York in recognition of his efforts to eliminate child labor from the production of coffee, which included the prohibition of child labor on his own coffee farm that employs over 760 workers. León-York used a portion of his farm’s profits to fund a school for the children of workers there and committed to provide his workers and their families with decent wages, food and health care. He also helped expand a public-private partnership called Educational Bridges, which provided education to children of coffee workers and prevents child labor during the coffee harvests.
León-York has been a prominent advocate for child labor reduction efforts in Nicaragua’s coffee sector, supporting a network of coffee growers and seeking to gain commitments from other coffee plantation owners to eliminate the use of child labor in the sector. León-York was the first award recipient to come from the private sector.
In announcing the award, Pier said, “Every day, millions of children around the world toil under dangerous and exploitative conditions, producing agricultural goods for the marketplace. Isidro León-York exemplifies the positive role that the private sector can play combatting harmful child labor. This award is a tribute to all those private-sector leaders, who like Mr. León-York, have embraced this role as a better way of doing business.”
George Achibra and his non-governmental organization, Partnership for Community Development (PACODEP), rescued over 450 children from child labor and child trafficking in the fishing industry since 2005.
They also did significant work in promoting awareness and advocacy with the aim of eliminating child labor and trafficking in the Volta Region, including educating close to 900 fishermen on human trafficking laws.
He has engaged young people and sponsored the formation of anti-trafficking school clubs, aimed at sensitizing communities on child labor. For his anti-trafficking advocacy, Achibra was also the recipient of the 2011 U.S. Embassy Martin Luther King, Jr. Award for Peace and Social Justice.
Then-Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis presented the 2011 Iqbal Masih Award for the Elimination of Child Labor to the documentary filmmaker Len Morris for his lifetime work in producing and editing documentaries that highlight the plight of child laborers around the world.
“This award recognizes his life’s work to raise public awareness about the plight of working children around the globe,” said then-Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis. “Over the past 20 years, Len Morris’ films have focused our attention on the faces and lives of children who toil in fields, in small workshops and on the streets. Children with few options, who must work on a daily basis just to make ends meet.”
Morris was nominated for his leadership in raising international awareness about child labor and inspiring others to join the fight to improve the lives of working children. Morris’ 2008 documentary, Rescuing Emmanuel, focuses on the life of a thirteen-year-old Kenyan street child, using his story to draw attention to the struggle of millions of street children in the world. Filmed in seven countries, the 2003 documentary Stolen Childhoods is told in the words of child laborers and advocates working to end exploitative labor. The film explores the reality of child labor, its causes, and possible solutions.
Then-Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis presented the 2010 Iqbal Masih Award for the Elimination of Child Labor to the Firestone Agricultural Workers Union of Liberia.
“This award recognizes the extraordinary efforts of the Firestone Agricultural Workers Union to combat the worst forms of child labor internationally,” said then-Secretary Solis. “The group serves as a model to others, showing that progress is possible and worth the effort.”
In 2010, The International Labor Rights Forum nominated the Firestone Agricultural Workers Union for successfully negotiating collective bargaining agreements with the Firestone Plantation in 2008 and 2010 that banned child labor while also improving the wages and working conditions of plantation workers.
The U.S. Department of Labor awarded the first annual Iqbal Masih Award for the Elimination of Child Labor to Maria Cecilia Flores-Oebanda of the Philippines. Ms. Flores-Oebanda, President and Executive Director of the Visayan Forum Foundation, Inc. (VFF) based in Quezon City, dedicated her life to combat the use of child domestic workers and the trafficking of women and children for domestic servitude and commercial sexual exploitation in the Philippines and internationally. "This award recognizes a champion in the fight to end child labor,” said then-U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao. “Ms. Flores-Oebanda has shown through her life and work that children deserve a chance to develop their full potential rather than to be caught up in a bleak existence defined by poverty and exploitive child labor.”
Ms. Flores-Oebanda was born into poverty and helped to support her family as a child scavenger. Like Iqbal Masih, as a teenager she advocated for the rights of youth and farm laborers. She was actively involved in the counterinsurgency against the Marcos regime and was jailed as political prisoner for four years. Ms. Flores-Oebanda coordinated the Global March Against Child Labor for South Asia and organized several events that allowed the region’s former and current child laborers’ voices to be heard. Her NGO, the VFF, has rescued and provided assistance to more than 32,000 victims and potential victims of trafficking, and has helped file 66 trafficking cases on behalf of 166 victims. Her work with VFF was instrumental in negotiating an agreement with the Philippine Port Authority and National Coast Guard to assist with intercepting children being trafficked from rural areas of the country or other nations to major port areas in the Philippines.
You may nominate an individual, a company, an organization, or a national government. To submit a nomination, you must be either the nominee or another person or entity acting with the knowledge and permission of the nominee.
Note that prior receipt of this award will not preclude a nominee from being considered for the Iqbal Masih Award in subsequent years. However, specific accomplishments that served as the basis of a prior award may not be considered as the basis for a subsequent award application.
The U.S. Department of Labor will also consider nominees from the past five years (2018-2022) that were deemed responsive but not yet selected for award. You may in such cases submit updated nomination packages for previous nominees.
Nominations for the Iqbal Masih Award will be judged by the extent that the nominee:
implemented extraordinary efforts that contribute to the reduction of the worst forms of child labor;
generated positive international attention in support of efforts to reduce the worst forms of child labor;
inspired others, including young persons, to become champions against the worst forms of child labor following the spirit and example of Iqbal Masih;
and fomented constructive change regarding the labor exploitation of children under great odds or at great personal cost.
You must include the following in the nomination package for consideration:
- Name(s) of the individual, company, organization or national government being nominated.
- Full street address, telephone number and e-mail address of nominee.
- Name, title, street address, telephone number and e-mail address of the person or organization submitting the nomination.
- A justification statement that provides a summary clearly identifying the specific attributes of the nominee relevant to the four selection criteria listed in this announcement.
Nomination packages should be limited to information relevant to the nominee and should be no longer than two (2) typed pages double-spaced. A page is 8.5" x 11" (on one side only) with one-inch margins (top, bottom, and sides). Nomination packages must be submitted in English.
You may submit nominations electronically. Electronic applications must be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org and received no later than 4:45 p.m. EDT on February 17, 2023.
You may confirm receipt of your application by contacting Shelley Stinelli by email at Stinelli.Shelley.C@dol.gov or by telephone at the OCFT main number: 202-693-4843, prior to the closing deadline.
ILAB/OCFT will perform a preliminary administrative review to determine the sufficiency of all submitted application packages relative to the Submission Requirements listed in Section 4 of this announcement. A panel of ILAB/OCFT representatives will conduct a substantive review of the nominations received relative to the criteria listed in Section 3 and will identify a short list of candidates to be considered. ILAB will perform a secondary review to determine the semi-finalists. The Secretary of Labor will conduct the final review and select the award recipient.
The awardee will be notified of selection prior to the presentation of the award. The Department of Labor anticipates that the award ceremony will be held in June 2023 at a location to be determined by the Secretary of Labor.
We are very interested in your thoughts and suggestions about your experience in preparing and filing this nomination packet for the United States Department of Labor's Iqbal Masih Award for the Elimination of Child Labor. Your comments will be very useful to ILAB/OCFT in making improvements in our solicitation for nominations for this award in subsequent years. All comments are strictly voluntary and strictly private. We would appreciate your taking a few minutes to tell us—for example, whether you thought the instructions were sufficiently clear; what you liked or disliked; what worked or didn't work; whether it satisfied your need for information or if it didn't, or anything else that you think is important for us to know. Your comments will be most helpful if you can be very specific in relating your experience. Please send any comments you have to email@example.com or via mail to the U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Child Labor, Forced Labor, and Human Trafficking, Room S-5317, 200 Constitution Ave NW, Washington, DC 20210.
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