Let’s make this the last generation that witnesses child abuse: Kailash Satyarthi
Extraordinary feats are achieved when ordinary people decide to speak out and act decisively. When we launched our non-violent war against child rape, sexual abuse and trafficking from the Vivekananda Rock Memorial in Kanyakumari on September 11 in the form of a Bharat Yatra, I was relying on the power of dreams, and the power of ordinary people.
Three weeks and more than 6,500 kilometres later, I am now confident that we will win this war. I can now dream of an India where children will be safe from predators and of an India where our loud collective voices sweep away the shackles of silence. Victims have decided to speak out; loudly and clearly. There are 300 core marchers, a majority of them victims and survivors who are a source of inspiration.
They have decided that silence is no longer an option. At a university ground packed with 8,000 people, 16-year-old Chanda stunned us all. “So you want to know what happened to me in a public toilet? I will no longer keep quiet about it. I will no longer live in fear and shame”, she declared.
It is Chanda and hundreds of victims marching along with me who are reawakening the slumbering conscience of our society. We refuse to accept an India where children remain unsafe, where children can be abused, raped and killed in schools, inside homes, child care centres, hospitals and in public spaces. We need a moral resurgence where the safety of children becomes a social, psychological and emotional issue that binds all of us. We want the safety of children as a defining political agenda.
Small gestures can make a big difference. I noticed a frail old man putting up posters in Kanyakumari. When I asked about him, he turned out to be Babaji from Mirzapur in Uttar Pradesh who joined us at Kanyakumari without needing any invitation. He had marched with me in 1998 during our Global March Against Child Labour.
Equally significant has been the wholehearted support from senior members of judiciary in every state. Everywhere that we have gone , mosques, gurdwaras, temples and churches have welcomed us with wide open arms. What it made me realise is that Indians are angry at the way children are being treated. And they want change.
And change is possible. A few days ago, at a function in Delhi home minister Rajnath Singh gave a public commitment that a new law against child trafficking will soon be tabled in Parliament for legislation. We have been fighting for such a law for more than a decade.
But this war will not be won till our society changes. A bolder and more compassionate society would not have allowed the uncle of a 12-year-old girl to keep raping her till her pregnancy was so advanced that abortion was not an option. Child victims are shamed and abused repeatedly. They are abused first by predators. Then they are shamed by society. Finally, they are abused, shamed and harassed inside court rooms where cases take years to be decided. Isn’t it a matter of horror that barely 5% of cases under POCSO result in conviction?
All the talk of demographic dividend is empty rhetoric if we allow thousands of children to be abused, raped, trafficked and murdered. If we truly want India to become a great nation, we must first make India safe for children. This Bharat Yatra is a moral crusade against a moral epidemic. Let’s make this the last generation to witness the abomination of child abuse.
Kailash Satyarthi is Nobel peace laureate and founder, Bachpan Bachao Andolan
The views expressed are personal