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Child rights take Nobel centre stage

comment Updated: Oct 11, 2014 00:58 IST
Malala Yousafzai

It is the most coveted prize in the world, the first among equals in the Nobel categories. The choice of Malala Yousafzai as one of the two recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize this year does not come as a surprise.

She was a front-runner along with Edward Snowden. But the dark horse is Indian child rights activist Kailash Satyarthi, who shares the prize with her. Ms Yousafzai is now an internationally acclaimed activist for the education for the girl child.

Her indomitable courage, which led to her being shot by militants, has impressed and moved millions around the world, for whom she is an icon of enlightenment in a particularly dark part of the world.

But Mr Satyarthi's track record is outstanding. He has been fighting for the release of children from servitude for decades. He formed the South Asian Coalition on Child Servitude in 1989 and has since been relentlessly striving to give a voice to the millions of children who are robbed of their childhood by being forced into labour of all kinds.

In an impressive partnership with 500 human rights groups and trade unions across South Asia, Mr Satyarthi has been instrumental in getting over 50,000 children released from hazardous industries like carpet weaving, firecrackers, sports goods and so on. Yet, little is known of this remarkable man outside the subcontinent.

The Nobel, rightly recognises not just his efforts but the continuing plight of children who are either inducted into or born into bondage.

Mr Satyarthi's struggle goes beyond just getting children released, he has pushed their right to education, for rehabilitation and for enforcing child-related laws.

The Nobel committee spoke of the importance of the prize going to a Hindu and a Muslim and an Indian and a Pakistani, symbols of the fight for education and against extremism. Such symbolism was really unnecessary, as both have risen above all labels in their fight for justice in their countries.

The best thing that could come out of the Nobel prize for Ms Yousafzai would be if the rest of the world came to the support of her forgotten sisters who are forced by fear to forgo their education and with that the opportunity to realise their full potential.

Mr Satyarthi's dream of a world without child labour may seem unrealisable at the moment. But the Nobel recognition will mean that this continuing evil will now feature much higher on the development agenda of the Indian government.

To that end, the Nobel committee has done the children of South Asia, especially India and Pakistan, a signal service.