The Hague: Kehkashan Basu, a 16-year-old Indian schoolgirl based in the UAE, has won this year’s International Children’s Peace Prize for her fight to save the planet.
Basu was presented the award by Nobel peace laureate Mohammad Yunus in a ceremony held in The Hague.
At the age of eight, Basu organised an awareness-raising campaign for the recycling of waste in her Dubai neighbourhood.
In 2012, she founded her own organisation, Green Hope, which carries out environment-focused campaigns, including picking up litter and raising awareness.
Kehkashan went on to become the youngest ever Global Coordinator for the Major Group for Children and Youth of the United Nations Environmental Programme.
Basu has addressed various international conferences and Green Hope is now active in ten countries with more than 1,000 young volunteers. She was nominated for the Children’s Peace Prize by her father, and saw out 119 other nominees from 49 countries.
“It is a great achievement for such a young person to already have such reach and impact with her important message,” said Yunus. The Bangladeshi banker, 76, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for his well-known efforts to help his poor countrymen develop businesses by handing out small loans.
“Kehkashan teaches us that we all have a responsibility to work towards a sustainable future,” he added.
Polar bears in UAE!
By tradition, the International Children’s Peace Prize is presented by a Nobel peace laureate.
Previous laureates who have handed out the award include former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and South African bishop Desmond Tutu.
The winner receives a statuette which portrays a child setting the world in motion, as well as a study grant.
The foundation also invests Dh390,000 in charitable projects in the winner’s home country.
The schoolgirl won because she had proved her ability to start a movement with real impact, said Marc Dullaert, the founder of the KidsRights Foundation. The Amsterdam-based global children’s aid group runs the award programme, which started in 2005.
“Kehkashan has managed to mobilise thousands of children to protect the environment,” said Dullaert.
“Children are the most vulnerable group and, without exception hit the hardest during environmental crises. They are, for example, the most vulnerable to water and air pollution. Children’s rights and environmental development are inextricably linked.”
After receiving the prize, Basu said she would “keep campaigning to encourage children and adults to create a more sustainable future”.
The schoolgirl currently divides her time between the UAE and Canada, where she has moved to study.
“I call upon everyone to think of how they can contribute to the preservation of the environment … Time is not on our side — we have to act now, or we will have polar bears under palm trees,” she said.