Nobel laureate Kailash Satyarthi has urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Donald Trump to send out a strong message against child labour and promote child education so that children can be prevented from entering the ‘world of extremism’.
“They can definitely come with a strong statement for investing in children and development. That means education, health, and protection of children everywhere in the world. Not only in these two countries,” Satyarthi, the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014, told PTI in an interview.
The founder of ‘Bachpan Bachao Andolan’, a grassroots movement dedicated to the protection of children and ensuring them education, said the two leaders - who are set to meet here on June 26 - can send a “message to the rest of the world that these two largest democracies care for their children and their most marginalised people.”
The 63-year-old activist, who is in America to meet child rights groups, said the US and India can send the message that “we are holding your hands, my dear children, ... so you don’t enter (the world of extremism).”
“That will help, not immediately, but in coming years it will help in protecting children if it comes again and again from these two countries or, maybe, many more. It’s a matter of leadership.”
Born in Vidisha, Madhya Pradesh, the son of a police officer, Satyarthi studied electrical engineering and went on to become the seventh Indian to win the Nobel prize.
In his more than 30 years as an activist, he has freed tens of thousands of children forced into slavery. He founded the Andolan in 1980 and began raiding factories where children were forced to work, in some cases by their parents who cannot afford to raise them.
According to the movement’s website, it has rescued over 83,500 victims of trafficking, slavery and child labour as on October 2014, and helped them re-establish trust in society.
The Nobel laureate said if India and the US showed the leadership, many others would follow. “They can also give a call that we have to hold hands of young people across the world to prevent them from entering those evil forces,” he said.
Satyarthi said it was important that the US and India understand the growing problems in the world that includes terrorism, extremism as well as global economy crisis and unemployment.
“They are government problems. Since we are among the most vibrant and most effective and the largest democracies, it becomes our collective responsibility to show the leadership to the rest of the world that we don’t care only for ourselves but we care for the rest of the world,” he said.
“I hope that both the leaders will show the leadership again as we have been talking that these two countries are natural partners to preserve democracy in the world,” he said.
Satyarthi said the US is not untouched by the grave issue of child labour and child marriage. “This is a serious problem here in the US.”
“We have come across, and I met, and there were partner organisations have rescued children who were local. They were white Americans. It’s a combination of all but definitely because of the West Coast situation most of them are Hispanics,” he said.
“We are getting more and more alarming news, and disgusting also, about the problem of early marriages, child marriages and teenage pregnancies in the United States. Except a few states, most states don’t have a very clear well-defined minimum age of marriage,” he said and urged the US government to make necessary changes in the law in this regard.
Satyarthi also urged Trump to reconsider his decision to withdraw from the historic Paris Climate Change Accord.
“I would once again make an honest appeal to President Trump to reconsider his decision on Paris Accord. Climate change and global warming is creating devastating effects on children in most parts of the world,” he said.
“(The leaders) know how due to global warming, the traditional livelihood of the parents have been ruined and the children became vulnerable to traffickers... We have also seen an increase in unemployment among adults, the migration crisis, social tension and violence, and trafficking, and child labour. Children are unable to complete their schools,” he said.
“To stop illegal migration, a country can build a wall but no wall can stop hot winds or polluted air,” Satyarthi concluded.