Kids aren't vanishing into thin air, says Nobel laureate Kailash Satyarthi

Aug 09, 2015, 08:15 IST | Shreya Bhandary

Nobel Peace Prize winner Kailash Satyarthi on why Mumbai is a child labour hell-hole

Students at IIT-Bombay had more reason than one to be excited on Saturday. It was the institution's 53rd Convocation Day and the 2,389 graduating students were treated to a glimpse of Nobel Peace awardee Kailash Satyarthi, chief guest for the occasion. SUNDAY mid-day interacted with the child rights champion.

Excerpts from an interview.

Q. Why are Mumbai and Delhi child labour and trafficking hubs?
A. It's unfortunate but both, the financial (Mumbai) and political (Delhi) capital of India are the largest destinations, source areas as well as transit spots for trafficking. There is huge demand here for young, docile and cheap house-help and factory labour. Thousands of children are trafficked from the North Eastern states and brought directly to Mumbai or sent to metros from here.

Kailash Satyarthi was in the city for a convocation at II-B. Pic/Suresh KK
Kailash Satyarthi was in the city for a convocation at II-B. Pic/Suresh KK 

Q. Many rescued children end up finding other sources of income. How do we ensure permanent rehabilitation?
A. If children are rescued under appropriate laws, they are legally rehabilitated. Be it the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, Juvenile Justice Act, Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, Interstate Migrant Workmen Act or the Protection of Children Against Sexual Offenses Act — all these have stringent rules. Children rescued under these are legally entitled to schemes culled by the state and central governments for the benefit of released bonded child labour. The aim is to also prosecute perpetrators and put an end to this menace.

Q. What's your favourite success story?
A. In the 1990s, from a small workshop in UP, we rescued 20 young boys, all locked up in one room. One of the boys, Kaalu, was just 11. He had been kidnapped at the age of six from his hometown in Bihar. Working at the factory had taken a toll on his body — his fingers were mutilated and he had suffered scars and bruises. We sent him to our rehabilitation center in Rajasthan, where he showed keen interest in academics. Over the years, he scored well at school and college. Eventually, when he was offered a job by an MNC, he refused it. He went back into the remote villages of Jharkhand to raise awareness about child trafficking among villagers. Children like him make me proud.

Q. What does the government need to focus for effective redressal?
A. Why just focus on child labour? According to figures released by the National Crime Records Bureau, 13,090 children went missing in Maharashtra last year but only 1,739 cases were registered. What's worse, 68% of these are girls, and most are trafficked. This can change only when the government takes cognizance of a 2012 Supreme Court order which states that every case of a missing child should be registered assuming that it is a case of trafficking. Kids aren't vanishing into thin air.

Q. How has winning the Nobel helped your work?
A. The Nobel has brought much-needed spotlight to the issue, across the world. I can use this platform to reach out to a global audience. The UN Millennium Development Goals that were put together in 2000, highlighted eight important issues, including the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger, achieving universal primary education, child mortality and gender equality. But after 15 years, most of these have not been achieved. Thanks to the Nobel, I discussed child labour/slavery with global heads and introduced the same in the new developmental goals that will be launched by the UN in the September session.

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