India’s children have been observing November 14 as their day for many years. But this year’s celebrations come with the gift of the Nobel Peace Prize. The award is a recognition of the children’s voice and faces which remained subdued and invisible for ages. Therefore, I have dedicated this Nobel Peace Prize to the world’s children. I have always felt one among them. For me, childhood has never been an age factor — it’s a value to be preserved for the entire life. With such virtues, life becomes simpler and world much more beautiful and safer.
Today, we are confronted with many problems, crises and scams but the denial of childhood is the biggest scandal of our times. But at the same time, I also strongly feel that the world has the potential to achieve the 4Rs that I believe in.
The first being ‘remembering’ our own childhood, then ‘recognising’ the issue of modern-day slavery and child exploitation, ‘respecting’ their journey from utter despair to unprecedented hope and finally ‘restoring’ their childhood by raising consciousness. We must not forget that all of us have our own children, grandchildren, sisters, brothers and children of friends too.
Remembering our own childhood would mean acknowledging the need of protection, love, joy, freedom and education which every child has the right to attain. It would also help us understand the beauty of simplicity and innocence, two qualities under threat in an adult world.
Redeeming these elements of childhood is not only an act of humanity but a prerequisite to create a safer world. Many people today are unaware or believe that slavery of children is a thing of medieval age. On the contrary, it is quite prevalent and continuing shamelessly.
Even as you read this, 17 crore children are languishing as child labourers around the world out of which 8.5 are crore enslaved, trafficked and used as child soldiers, prostitutes, petty criminals or child beggars and also exposed to the most dangerous and hazardous work that one can think of. This fact has to be recognised by everyone as a vital challenge.
We are proud of our times witnessing or being part of a new civilisation of information and communication that has digitalised everything including human sentiments and sensitivity.
But at the same time, every day 22,000 children die due to poverty. So the big question is, ‘Whose fault is it? Who is to be blamed?’ One must understand that these enslaved children are not the subject of our pity and that every child is born with divine universal, constitutional and legal right. Right to freedom and learning is the most important fundamental right and they shouldn’t be compromised under any condition.
I do not believe in work as charity. What I aspire and try to do is to ensure the right of children that were robbed off by vested interests. Freedom is divine and slavery is a design and supposition of man. Therefore, it cannot continue endlessly. Freedom will prevail eventually.
Hence, we together must develop a child-friendly universe where respect and friendliness with children becomes the way of life. I firmly believe that childhood must be restored as a top priority in our personal, political and social lives. I firmly believe that childhood must be restored as the top priority in our personal, political and social life.
Every child must be free from exploitative labour as it denies education and future opportunities, creating a vicious circle with adult unemployment and poverty. Look at the painful paradox, while 17 crore children are in full-time jobs, approximately 20 crore adults remain jobless. These adults are no one else but the very parents of the child workers.
One has to break this cycle by ending child labour. This is not impossible. As I always say, India may be a country of hundred problems but it is also the motherland of a thousand solutions. Collective action, political will adequate resources and empathy for deprived children can and will end child labour.
As child labour is violence, denial of education is also violence against children. India has the greatest tradition of solving its major problems in the most non-violent and peaceful manner. We should work towards a child-friendly environment and must realise the indomitable power of youth.
On this important event, I give you all a slogan — ‘globalise compassion, democratise knowledge and universalise rights’.
(The author is the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize winner and founder of the NGO Bachpan Bachao Andolan. The views expressed are his own)