Supriya Roy: Today, 10th October 2021 marks the seventh anniversary of child rights advocate Kailash Satyarthi’s winning of the Nobel Peace Prize, for his fight against child labour and child exploitation. This prestigious award brought a spotlight on the issues of children around the world which were ignored far too long.
Kailash Satyarthi, a child rights champion, who rescued over 1,00,000 bonded and trafficked children deserves not only our praise but also our relentless support in his fight to ensure every child matters and their issues matter.
Not only did he confront those who employed and exploited children but also fought against the mindset that considered child labour normal. Freeing of Wasal Khan’s daughter Sabo along with 36 other slaves from a brick kiln in Punjab at the order of Delhi High Court in response to Satyarthi’s Habeas Corpus petition in March 1981 happens to be the first-ever documented slave labour rescue operation in the history of independent India.
Since the larger fight was against the societal mindset, Satyarthi always knew that only a mass movement would be the most befitting response. Any help towards the marginalized children in India was only viewed from the lens of charity or philanthropy till then.
Bringing the rights-based perspective for the wellbeing and development of children aligned with their constitutional rights was the actual need of the hour. With this goal in mind, Satyarthi launched Bachpan Bachao Andolan (Save the Childhood Movement).
Satyarthi in one of the interviews said, “Every time I rescued a child, I could see the glimpse of God in the tears of joy that rolled down the cheeks of their mothers who had lost all the hope.”
Talking about changing the mindset, Satyarthi in 1998 conceived and led one of the largest civil society movements Global March Against Child Labour traversing across 103 countries covering 80,000 Kms with a demand for an International Law on Worst Forms of Child Labour. This eventually led to the adoption of ILO Convention No. 182 on the worst forms of child labour which was formally adopted in 1999 and went on to become the fastest ratified convention in the history of ILO. This march was one of the most successful mass mobilizations that we have seen in contemporary times. In those days, social media was non-existent and the internet and mobile phones were available only in rich countries or to the rich in third world countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Satyarthi and his team launched a globally coordinated effort with perfect synergy.
Moving ahead, Satyarthi founded the Global Campaign for Education (GCE) – the largest civil society movement working to end the global education crisis and ensuring that States deliver the right of every child to a free, quality public education. This put the global policy advocacy spotlight on the Right to Education for all children and the emergent need for its financing by the international donor fraternity. While his movement against child labour strengthened the world over, education did not become a fundamental right in India till 2002. Raising a clarion call for making education a fundamental right before 2002, he led the Shiksha Yatra (Education March) in 2001. Traversing through 20 States, covering a distance of 15,000 km, a rally of about tens of hundreds of marchers reached Delhi from Kanya Kumari after travelling for 115 days. Demand for the right to education for all children came from the people themselves. This resulted in the 86th amendment in the Constitution of India making free and compulsory education a Fundamental Right for all children in the age group of six to fourteen years. Eventually, The Right to Education Act came into force on 01st April 2010.
Satyarthi’s contribution to the fight against child slavery and bonded labour for four decades was acknowledged internationally much before the Nobel Peace Prize. Several prestigious awards like Defenders of Democracy Award (2009-US); Alfonso Comin International Award (2008-Spain) and Medal of the Italian Senate (2007-Italy), Robert F Kennedy International Human Rights Award (USA), Aachener International Peace Prize (Germany), Fredric Ebert International Human Rights Award (Germany) etc have been conferred to him.
As he believes that there is no greater violence than to deny the dreams of our children, let us work towards making the world child-friendly.
Supriya Roy ,Law Student, University of Calcutta