New Delhi : Kailash Satyarthi has been a campaigner for child rights nationally and internationally for three decades. His Bachpan Bachao Andolan has had particular focus on freeing children who are forced into exploitative labour or servitude. His work has been amply recognised and honoured, particularly internationally. In 2014, Satyarthi shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan.
While top awards have crowned his efforts, they have not capped them. His campaign against child labour continues. He is currently working to launch a campaign called ‘Hundred Million for Hundred Million’ which is aimed at the youth across the world. Satyarthi spoke with Pragya Kashyap (PK) of IANS about his life and work. His message to the ordinary folk is: Just break the silence over child labour.
PK: In addition to your long-term campaign against child servitude, what have you been doing nowadays?
Satyarthi: Currently I am preoccupied with getting amendments introduced to the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Bill that Rajya Sabha passed on July 19.
The Bill has two main faults. Firstly, it reduces the number of industries considered hazardous for children from 83 to just three. And secondly, it allows children below 14 to engage in home-based work. So the families will be allowed to use children in such work. These two faults should be removed before the Bill is considered for passage by the Lok Sabha.
PK: What else have you been doing?
Satyarthi: I have been planning to launch a campaign called ‘Hundred Million for Hundred Million’. There are about 100 million children, youth and girls in the world who are victims of violence, malnutrition, sexual exploitation or are not receiving any education.
We want another 100 million young people who have food, security, education and good prospects in life — to become the voice of their 100 million unfortunate counterparts. We plan to reach out to the youth through social media, academia, and groups and associations of the young. The plan is to launch the campaign by the end of the year.
PK: What event or moment in your life do you trace the start of your work against child labour?
Satyarthi: I was five and a half years old. It was my first day at school. Outside the school, I saw a boy of my age stitching shoes. The questions that I then asked of my teachers and family members did not receive any satisfactory answers.
As a child, I would raise money to help poor children pay their schools fees and buy books. After completing my engineering, I worked only for a year and a half before deciding to make stopping child labour my life’s aim. My wife has helped me throughout in that work.
PK: How has the Nobel Prize smoothed your way?
Satyarthi: Nobel Prize has made me much better known nationally and internationally. I no longer have to wait for months to get an appointment with a Indian or foreign leader.
I have now been meeting presidents, prime ministers and other top decision makers to take to their countries the work I do. The issue I deal with belongs to the lowest of priorities of most societies. I have been successful in taking it to the top most echelons of decision makers. That also amounts to a great moral responsibility that I cannot avoid.
The most significant change that Nobel prize brought was the inclusion of child labour, child slavery, and violence against children in the millennium development goals.
PK: What can an ordinary person do to stop child labour and how?
Satyarthi: First thing for ordinary people to do is to end their silence. Consider all children as your own children. Talk to your local MP or MLA. Use social media. Start protesting at places where children have been employed.
Awareness will bring change across the world as is evident in the change we have already seen. The United Nations statistics indicate that the number of child workers have gone down from 26 crore to 18 crore in the last 15 years. The number of children out of school has gone from 13 crore to six crore.
PK: Europe is facing a migrant crisis that has put in relief the plight of children. How does your work touch that issue?
Satyarthi: My wife and I have recently been to a migrant camp in Germany, where I learnt a lot from the children and got an insight into their plight. I saw dreams in their lives even though their families lost everything they had. I also spent a day in a migrant camp in Turkey.
The flood of migration means children are being deprived of food, security and education. Many of them are being enslaved, some are being pushed into crime, some just disappear. In conflict-ridden Syria alone, 20 children disappeared.
I raised the issue with many heads of state and ministers and urged them to open their borders to the children in distress. I also raised the issue at the UN Humanitarian Summit in Turkey. A campaign called ‘Education Cannot Wait’ was also started during that summit to help distressed children get education.