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Wiping out child labour on the cards

Apart from child labour, there is a problem of child sexual abuse, online trafficking and pornography which has grown multifold and has become the biggest illicit trade in the world.

By Michael Gomes (Big Interview)

Published: Thu 5 Sep 2019, 10:14 PM

Last updated: Fri 6 Sep 2019, 1:07 PM

Nobel Peace Prize winner Kailash Satyarthi is the star of a documentary, The Price of Free, based on his struggles in highlighting the issue of child labour. In a freewheeling chat with Khaleej Times from Bal Ashram, a rehab centre located in Rajasthan, India, Satyarthi spoke about matters dear to him and about the documentary's nomination for this year's Emmy in the Outstanding Social Issue documentary category.
How can Bollywood help promote your cause?
Bollywood is influential not just in India. I believe they can be a strong amplifier of the voices of voiceless children. They can also help in educating people by sensitising them on the evil which has to be eradicated. They can help people not only understand but also come up with solutions to solve this problem - through their films and interaction with fans. Whenever Bollywood has tackled social causes in their movies, it has had a tremendous impact on the minds of people.

What has been the response after your movie was screened internationally?
The response has been tremendous. Within a few months of the release, more than seven million people have watched it. But more importantly, this movie was screened by some of the most powerful giants in the corporate world like Hilton, Target, Estee Lauder, Adidas, Wallmart in their headquarters and branches across the world. Some companies have agreed to support the cause through my foundation (Kailash Satyarthi Children's Foundation) in further taking up the matter with their clients. We are in regular contact with them regarding their supply chain.

The UAE has a large Indian expat population who have been very generous when it comes to social causes. What can they do to help?
My movie was screened in the UAE last year and I have also visited the country.
I believe every Indian should watch the film, not because of me or my struggle, but to understand how India may be having hundreds of problems but it is also the land of billions of solutions, many of which come from very ordinary people who raise their voices and march to the courts to seek justice against child slavery. The Price of Free is about the journey from darkness to light, from despair to hope.

Your movie won the Sundance Grand Jury Prize last year. Do awards help?
It surely helps. Consciousness or awareness is the first step for social change. So yes, the Sundance got us recognition and helped us take this movie to the United States and Europe. Now that the film has been nominated for an Emmy, it will give more impetus to my message.
What have been the changes for you and your movement after you won the Nobel Peace Prize?
In terms of support and awareness, the response and effect were unprecedented.
My nearly four decades of efforts could not draw so much attention to the issue of children's exploitation, but it was done in a mere 35 minutes after my Nobel Prize was announced. Every television channel and newspaper covered my story since it was the first time such a Nobel Prize was awarded to this cause. I was given a platform to reach out to the UN. We were able to bring together more than 15 Nobel Laureates and other moral leaders to launch a platform called Laureates and Leaders for Children.
Do you think child labour is limited to Third World countries?
Well no actually. To be frank, terms like Third World or First World countries should be eradicated from our vocabulary. Some countries are developing while others are developed. So this is not a problem confined only to the developing world, it is also a problem in the United States of America and some parts of Europe. Apart from child labour, there is a problem of child sexual abuse, online trafficking and pornography which has grown multifold and has become the biggest illicit trade in the world.

How can the common man help you in your fight against child labour?
Consumers all over the world should ensure they are buying goods which are free of child labour. They can question shopkeepers about the source of the materials. The shopkeepers, in turn, have to talk to the dealers, importers and exporters or manufacturers regarding the query by consumers. In the mid-90s, I launched a consumer campaign and the number of child labourers in India, Pakistan and Nepal decreased from one million to less than 200,000. Consumer power can be converted into behavioural change which in turn will pressurise manufacturers and suppliers. Secondly, the common man is empowered by social media. Whenever they learn about atrocities against children in any part of the world, they can simply raise their concern on social media channels.

Your movie shows powerful mafia involved in child trafficking, how did you tackle such forces?
Tackling this should begin with the involvement of the local authorities like the police and labour departments, including the prime minister of the country.
We requested them (government) to introduce stronger laws to tackle trafficking and child slavery. India has good laws against child labour and thanks to the present government the laws were amended and most of them are now in place. However, the bigger challenge is to enforce these laws. Accountability has to be asserted.

Is poverty one of the main reasons children are being forced into slavery?
No. I don't think so. I have addressed it in the movie, but it has not been explained properly because the film has its limitations. There is a triangular relationship between poverty, child labour and illiteracy. They are the causes and consequences of each other. You are right when you say that poverty is one of the causes of child slavery. But if child labour continues, poverty will also continue. They are also going to remain illiterate, so that becomes a vicious circle. We have to break out of this cycle.

Do you think child labour will be wiped out from the planet?
Of course, it will. When I started it was a non-issue, not only in India but all over the world. I have witnessed the change through my humble contributions. This issue cannot be neglected anymore. We now have laws and programmes in place to reduce this menace. I recollect the number of child labourers in the year 2000. It was about 260 million. That has now gone down to 150 million. The most important thing is that governments and people in power have to feel that these children (labourers) are all our children. If we can save one generation, we need not have to worry about the next generation. If this generation is protected and educated properly, it can save all the generations to come. We need a strong social movement, strong political mobilisation and the political will and that is attainable. Complete eradication of this issue is going to happen soon.

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