After completing electrical engineering degree in Vidisha, Madhya Pradesh, he worked as a teacher for some time. But destiny had something else in store for him. In 1980, at the age of 26, he left teaching and founded the organisation, Bachpan Bachao Andolan, which has so far freed 85,000-odd children from slave-like conditions in India. He has also been actively involved in other organizations working against child labour and for children's rights to education. Shubhankar Behera spoke to Nobel Peace Laureate Kailash Satyarthi about his global campaign against child labour, child trafficking and child sexual abuse.
You have recently launched “100 Million for 100 Million” global campaign to protect the rights of children. What’s the campaign module?
While rescuing 45 children from a toy manufacturing unit in New Delhi last year, I asked one about his dream. His reply was, “to play one day with the toys they are making”...In many countries children are engaged to harvest cocoa which is used in chocolates, but they have never tasted the sweetness of chocolate. How long it will continue? Time has come to react.
My campaign aims to mobilise 100 million youngsters and children for 100 million underprivileged children across the globe, to end child labour, child slavery and all forms of exploitation of children over the next five years. On one hand 100 million children are suffering and on the other hand 100 million people are ready to act positively. The campaign will be both online and offline. While youngsters can raise awareness about the incidents around the world on social media, they can also become volunteers by forming groups, and react to several things to bring a positive change in society.
How the youth can be a driving force in the campaign?
We cannot dream of a safe India without ensuring safety of our daughters and sons. The young mass is looking for a better purpose in life and is hungry to prove that they are full of energy and enthusiasm. We must encourage our young people to become leaders and not just followers. In the world, about three billion people are below the age of 25 and two billion are below the age of 18. I am trying to address the burning issue with the help of at least 100 million out of them to become the change makers, leaders, pioneers and champions for the other 100 million left out ones.
What’s been the response so far?
Globally we are working with 2,000 organisations who are our partners in 140 countries. Global confederations of teachers’ unions and foreign universities have encouraged the noble idea of protecting children rights. This year, the campaign will cover every continent, and by 2019, will operate in over 60 countries worldwide. In India, the campaign will focus on child sexual abuse, which has been reportedly increasing over the years. We are encouraging students and youth to register through www.100mn.org and help us bring the change.
You have been a tireless advocate of children’s rights for over four decades. Do you feel a deficit of moral values and compassion result in apathy and lack of will for our children?
As the world takes giant leaps, in wealth or technology, children suffer the most in times of transition. I believe that is because there is a serious moral deficit all around us, from business to governments to NGOs to temples and mosques. Who will speak for the children? I always believed in globalising compassion. This time I want to engage an entire generation. We should not waste the energy, enthusiasm, eagerness and the idealism of our youth. Let us inculcate and transform these individuals' compassion into a global compassion. Anger inspired by compassion and not driven by hatred or violence is the greatest tool for change.
In view of the growing socio-political situation under the Trump administration in USA, how do you see the future of thousands of children of immigrants?
A grave situation is prevailing in USA. Since children of the so-called illegal immigrants are born in America, they are citizens of that country. But I am concerned about their future as their immigrant parents are being asked to leave the country in view of the emerging socio-political situation.
The population of such children is huge and the US Government must acknowledge the huge contribution of immigrants to the development of the country. I have seen how young scientists from different countries, especially from India, have built that country. Their contribution is immense in building institutions in America. Immigrants must be respected.
This apart, millions of children are being brainwashed and radicalised by fundamentalist forces that have realised schools and education have the power to burn through their ‘human bomb capital’. Forcibly or voluntarily, they are being attracted to fanaticism and sometimes prompted to become a kind of child soldier or suicide bombers. This situation needs to be addressed immediately. Growing numbers of boys and girls are also being enslaved by armed extremist and fundamentalist groups like Islamic State and the Taliban.
I appeal all the teachers, political leaders, religious preachers to use their "moral authority" for children's rights and fight against child slavery and trafficking.