Kailash Satyarthi, founder of Bachpan Bachao Andolan, won the Nobel Peace Prize 2014. Excerpts:
Were you surprised by the announcement? What does it mean to you and to your organisation?
This award is for all the 170 million children who are child labourers across the world and billions of them are still working as child labourers in India. While talking to you all I am reminded of all those children who are currently working as labourers, domestic helps, those working in the mines, in the farms and fields. This award is for all of them. I was quite surprised and extremely happy at the same time when the announcement was made. The issue of child labour is both political and economic. We need to take many more steps to deal with the situation.
You are sharing the prize with a Pakistani and it is a great moment for both the countries. What do you have to say about this?
Do you think the award is going to help further the cause of anti-child labour movement?
Child labour is an international problem and with this award the movement will only benefit. This is not the problem of only one country. It is an international problem as I said there are 17 crore children across the world who are victims of child slavery. This award is not only for India but for the work done across the world in countries such as Pakistan, Nepal, Africa, Europe wherever child slavery problem still exists. I am working in 144 countries and children of every country are same for me.
The oft-repeated debate about child labour always centres on the issue of poverty. What are your views?
This is a myth, this is an absolute myth that poverty causes and perpetuates child labour. The reality is that child labour causes poverty and child labour perpetuates poverty and it perpetuates illiteracy. So we cannot hide behind the argument of poverty in exploiting our children in robbing off their childhood from them.
What inspired you when you started working for child rights?
As a five-year-old while standing outside my school I noticed a boy of my age stitching shoes. When I asked the cobbler why his son was not attending school, he said we have been born to work and are bound to work like this for life. I even asked my teachers and they said he’s a poor man’s son and they have to work to earn a livelihood. I was not convinced by their argument and the episode moved me. I was unable to digest why some people are born to work while some go to school.