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Reliving one of the triumphs of the 2014 Nobel Prize Winner, Kailash Satyarthi

Updated on October 13, 2014
Kailash Satyarthi, one of the two awardees of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize
Kailash Satyarthi, one of the two awardees of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize

The 2004 Children’s World Congress on Child Labour is just one of the many achievements of the 2014 Nobel Prize Joint-Winner, Kailash Satyarthi

In a bid to mobilise worldwide efforts to fulfil its mission of protecting and promoting the rights of all children, the Global March Against Child Labour (GMCL) were the architects and conveners of the Children’s World Congress on Child Labour held in Florence, Italy, in May 2004. On 6 August 2003, the GMCL founder and Chairperson, Mr. Kailash Satyarthi, spoke with the former editor of the Child Labour News Service (CLNS), George Mwika Kayange, on the need of convening such a global gathering of children. Mr. Satyarthi is now one of the two awardees of the Nobel Peace Prize won barely 11 years after the interview, reproduced hereunder.

GMK: From your point of view as veteran child labour activist, what do you really make of the Children’s World Congress on Child Labour?

Kailash: Well, when we organised the Global March Against Child Labour in 1998, we realised that the children and youths, particularly those who are freed from various forms of child labour and exploitation, have an enormous potential of leadership. They are the ones who analyse the problems and once they are given an opportunity, they have more original and creative thinking in finding the solutions. The second thing was that if the victims themselves come out with strong voices, then their voices would never remain unheard. They become much stronger than anything, and nobody can stop them. If they bring their resources before the public, politicians, media, and lawmakers, they cannot be ignored. And the third thing was that we talk of child participation or child advocacy but we have never been able to create a culture of child participation, decision-making and child rights. Child rights is not a philosophy, it’s not a law. It’s a life style. It’s behaviour. It’s a culture that has to be created all over the world. So the Congress is a very important historic event, which will keep a new face and a new voice to the movement of children against child labour.

GMK: Efforts to eliminate child labour started more than a decade ago. What makes this particular convention so special?

Kailash: There have been advocates from the NGOs, UN agencies and governments who have been involved in the elimination of child labour in their own ways. In some cases the children have played important roles. But now we want to see how the children can form their own organisations or groups, and how they can collectively fight the menace of child labour. The adult people in power have been preaching about the welfare of children. Now the arrangement is different. Those adult leaders have to come and hear from the children. That’s why this Congress is very different from many other activities in the past where the children were dictated on what to do, and not given a chance to question the authorities on issues relating to their lives.

GMK: Based on the preparations, how optimistic of the event are you?

Kailash: We are very optimistic. And our optimism is based on our past experiences in organising the physical Global March in over a hundred countries, in organising the Global Action Week on Education every year in 200 countries or so, and in organising other global campaigns from time to time. So these form a concrete basis for being optimistic, but we need more preparation. It’s not just a question of bringing children at one place. It’s not just a question of organising the World Congress of children. It’s a question that is broader than that. And the broader question is how we are going to enhance the process of building leadership and participation right from the grassroots up to national, regional and international level. So we need to do a lot in terms of preparation, and that becomes the responsibility of national as well as the regional co-ordinators of the Global March with all efforts to make sure they are able to reach out to those children who are the potential child labour leaders; the identification, the orientation and re-orientation of several issues, and the logistical issues. All those issues are challenging.

GMK: What are the major areas to be focused during the Convention?

Kailash: The major areas would include various worst forms of child labour. But it does not mean that only the children who are the victims of slavery and other forms of child exploitation are going to share their past ordeals, but they are also going to share their experiences of the present and their futuristic thinking and reasoning. So one of the key components is to ask, basing on the past experiences of those children, what is their present, or what it that makes their present life possible? What measures have been taken by the NGOs, the society, the activists or the governments to make their present life bright? How are these children from Africa, Latin America, Asia, or Europe, going to build up a common reasoning? And the most important component is that how are they going to determine their own future? What are those things that can negatively affect them or that can be helpful to them – that includes, for example, education, peace, terrorism, environmental issues, and gender issues.

GMK: There is no doubt children face a lot of problems everywhere in the world, one of which has to do with child labour. Outline the major ills or situations in relation to child labour today that really prompted you to convene such a milestone event?

Kailash: What I always say is that child labour is a human crime. It’s a crime that causes several social problems. It causes and perpetuates poverty, adult unemployment, and population explosion in poor communities due to the warped belief that bearing and employing more children means more earnings. It heightens illiteracy because if they is competition between expensive earning and easy earning, then the people will go for easy earning and that is child labour. So child labour causes a lot of problems. Secondly, a lot of people say that many people are very poor. If they don’t send their children to work or the children themselves don’t work, then they will starve or become pickpockets and so on. But that is not the truth. One thing as a basic moral or human principal one should believe in is who causes poverty and who are the victims of poverty? Children are not the causers of poverty. They are not the creators of poverty. They are the victims of poverty. And they are blaming the victims for something they have not created. It is the wrong policies of the governments, and it is the handful of the ruling elite in maintaining their richness, who perpetuate poverty. 15 percent of the rich people are responsible for the perpetuation of poverty. It’s not the poor people. The worst victims are the children of these poor people. They are creating wealth for rich people. So they should not be punished for something they are not responsible for. They should not be made child labourers because they were born in poor families; because they are not responsible for being born in poor families. So what we want to say is that the fight against child labour is the fight against the very basic exploitative thinking and patterns of governments, which are responsible for the creation of those things. So child labour is not a simple matter of child rights. It is a problem, which should be tackled by various stakeholders at different levels, including the victims (children) themselves.

GMK: From your explanation, it seems this children’s forum is quite big and significant as well, perhaps one of the largest events to involve youngsters. Isn’t it too big for them as children?

Kailash: No, I don’t think that the presence of 500 children is too big for them. I would say that there are many schools where 2,000, 4,000 or even more are studying in the same school. Sometimes they assemble in the morning prayers or in social gatherings. So the quantity is not so big. And for those who are already in school, or rehabilitation centres, they are already living with quite a large number of children. But the crucial factor is the languages, the cultures and the backgrounds. They are coming from so many countries and from so many languages. So it’s not only mingling through English, French and Spanish. We are talking about maybe more than 30 languages. That could be a difficulty for them to communicate amongst themselves, and it’s a challenge for us.

GMK: Suppose you were one of the child participants – a typical Indian kid, for example - what are the three priority issues you would want to contribute and share with your fellow adolescents?

Kailash: If I were a child participant the first thing I would do is definitely try to learn from my friends who are there. I would want to know about their countries, their languages, their lives, and etcetera. And then I would try to match my life with theirs. I would try to find some similarities, and some sort of relationship with them. The second thing I would do is to find out if it is only in India where the leaders are hypocrites or promise breakers. Is it the same case in Africa or Latin America also? And if I would come to know that African, Latin American or Asian leaders are the same; they speak very high of the children but they don’t make honest efforts, then I would hug other children and would say “great, we are all the same!” And we all have to question and fight the powers or the authorities. Finally, the third thing I would do is I would feel that however bad my conditions have been in the past, and whatever difficulties I will face in the future, I do definitely see a big ray of hope. Even as a typical Indian child, I would see that change is possible. If I was a child labourer or a child prostitute, positive change or transformation is possible everywhere. And that strong personal belief I would try to share it with my friends.

GMK: Briefly explain your vision about the Convention?

Kailash: Actually I feel that the children have an enormous, unprecedented power of sisterhood and brotherhood. They are like a global family. I tell you that if you allow me to stay with children from your country and others, with different races, cultures, backgrounds, religions and colours, after only a couple of days I will tell you that these children are living like a family. They are able to talk to each other without language. What is the power? We adults cannot communicate because we are polluted with our biased opinions, with our biased mindset, with our biased beliefs, and with our biased doubts against each other. When we are talking to each other we have thousands of doubts. But when two or three children from different countries will live together, there is no pollution. They are pure. They are sacred. And that’s why they will create a family within themselves within no time. They will become good friends. They will share their food, water and everything. No doubt, no frustrations. And that is the power. So what I visualise is that bringing such sacred children of the world together will help us in shaping a new global order, a new world. They are a lot of children around the world, not only these participating 500 children. All these children will definitely form their own global community in the fight against child labour.

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George Mwika Kayange was a Malawian Media and Communication Intern at the Global March Against Child Labour in New Delhi, India, from November 2002 to November 2003 where he also managed the Child Labour News Service (CLNS) online project. Upon returning to Malawi, Kayange founded the Child Rights Information and Documentation Centre (CRIDOC). Now a freedom of information champion, and a full-time child rights and disability activist, he is currently employed by the Southern Africa Federation of the Disabled (SAFOD) as Projects Coordinator

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