Some say that Kailash Satyarthi’s crusade for child rights across the world has been, in the words of his 2014 Nobel Peace Prize citation, a heroic ‘struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education’.
Others criticise him as merely being a part of the misery industry that obtains western funding by exaggerating Third World poverty and other such problems. As people wait for him to arrive at the Chandigarh Press Club, Sector 27, for a ‘Meet the Press’ event, one was curious to meet the man behind the medal. He breezes in, wearing a crisp brownkurta with a khadi jacket and the minute he begins talking, one is struck by his simple logic.
Have things changed for you and your endless battle against child labour after receiving the Nobel Peace Prize?
The prize presented to me is not just mine or my organisation’s. It is a sign for each one of us to be a part of the change we wish to see in the world. Things haven’t changed and neither have I changed only the responsibility has increased. I gave away the prize to the President of our country so that every citizen of our country takes up my share of responsibility towards humanity. I didn’t have the medal then... I don’t have it now either.
But do you feel it has helped raise more concerns regarding child slavery more openly, and at a global level?
Yes, you see, child labour was not considered an issue at some point in our country. It was the media and the judiciary through whose help I continued to fight for a just cause to prevent children from being robbed off their childhood.
No mention of support from the government. So will it be fair to ask if the government’s support has increased, decreased or remained the same ever since?
I don’t want to judge them too soon as it’s a new government and they have their own priorities. However, yes, I hope they infuse it as a priority in the time to come. Besides, legal safeguards have to be made.
Increased ‘urbanisation’ has also brought about a shift in child labour patterns. This particularly falls true to places like Chandigarh where a somewhat ‘high-class’ domestic labour is employed at homes, hotels, shopping centres and let alone at the dhabas?
If that’s the case, then it is for each one of us to raise our voices and boycott such services. Be it a relative, a friend or an acquaintance, this needs to be stopped immediately. Boycott hospitality. Media can play a significant role by highlighting such issues more often. This is where ethical emergency comes into play. We must reflect collectively as to how honest we are to these exploited children.
In fact just yesterday 13 child labourers were rescued in Ludhiana by activists of your NGO, Bachpan Bachhao Andolan
Yes, eight were girls and five were boys all below the age of 15. One cannot deny that the growth in the middle class be it Punjab, Haryana or Assam has adversely increased the demand for cheap labour. Children are docile and hence they are preferred over adults. There have been many cases of kidnapping in Haryana in the name of these so-called placements. 15 children go missing every hour in India. Young girls are sold for lakhs in districts of Haryana in the name of household work and dowry. But the point is we all need to speak up, a group of people alone cannot bring about a change that will end this heinous act.
Where does the long-term solution lie in that case?
I will pursue it with the Punjab and Haryana governments and I also want to request the industries of this region through this medium to ‘stop’ this exploitation and most importantly to the people to raise their voices. Now is the time.
Given the appalling statistics, why is child labour still not illegal?
The contradictions in our laws, is the answer to your question. While the Child Labour laws pertain to those below 14 years of age, the Juvenile Justice Act, which actually allows prosecution of employers falls true for children between the age of 15 to 18.
Laws and rehabilitation are important, but many activists say strengthening primary education is the key to this problem. Do you agree?
Not only primary education but completion of secondary education is important as well. And quality education at that. The education system has to be built in a way that is able to retain our country’s children in schools and classrooms. firstname.lastname@example.org