Chil­dren’s rights ac­tivist Kailash Sat­yarthi, sub­ject of a film about his life and work, tells Chris New­bould what the world needs right now

The National - News - - ARTS & LIFESTYLE - Kailash is due on gen­eral re­lease in Septem­ber or Oc­to­ber this year

In­dian chil­dren’s rights ac­tivist and No­bel Peace Prize win­ner Kailash Sat­yarthi is the founder of or­gan­i­sa­tions in­clud­ing Bach­pan Bachao An­dolan (Save Child­hood Move­ment), the Kailash Sat­yarthi Chil­dren’s Foun­da­tion, Global March Against Child Labour, and GoodWeave In­ter­na­tional. He has been some­thing of a fix­ture in the re­gion of late.

Last month, he was in Jor­dan to speak at the an­nual sum­mit of the Lau­re­ates and Lead­ers for Chil­dren foun­da­tion, while this month he was in Abu Dhabi to at­tend a pri­vate screen­ing of the Sun­dance Fes­ti­val Grand Jury Prize-win­ning doc­u­men­tary Kailash, which fol­lows his life and work, at the Cul­tureSum­mit.

Sat­yarthi is re­mark­ably un­fazed, al­though clearly qui­etly pleased, about be­ing the sub­ject of an award-win­ning doc­u­men­tary from Os­car-win­ning pro­ducer Davis Guggen­heim, but when con­ver­sa­tion turns to his work for chil­dren he be­comes far more an­i­mated.

Sat­yarthi notes that the Mid­dle East is a par­tic­u­larly rel­e­vant place to be dis­cussing chil­dren’s rights at the mo­ment, given the on­go­ing sit­u­a­tion in Syria, as well as re­cent and con­tin­u­ing refugee crises in places such as Libya, Iraq and elsewhere: “My ex­pe­ri­ence of the ex­pe­ri­ence of chil­dren on the move in the Mid­dle East, par­tic­u­larly with ref­er­ence to the refugee cri­sis in Syria and elsewhere, is that it is not be­ing paid ad­e­quate at­ten­tion,” he says. “When we talk of the refugee cri­sis it’s usu­ally quite gen­er­alised, but chil­dren have to face more spe­cific prob­lems in­clud­ing traf­fick­ing, child mar­riages, child labour, slav­ery, and more.

“They’re the most vul­ner­a­ble to be­com­ing vic­tims of fur­ther ex­ploita­tion, whether they’re in refugee camps or out­side.”

Sat­yarthi says that the prob­lem is not con­fined to the Mid­dle East, but also to other ar­eas of the world where refugees typ­i­cally flee, in par­tic­u­lar Europe.

“About 10,000 chil­dren went miss­ing in Europe last year,” he says. “We don’t know where they’ve gone, but they may have been taken by some­one with du­bi­ous in­ten­tions. Jor­dan was a great place to talk about this last month [at Lau­re­ates and Lead­ers], and we brought lau­re­ates, ac­tivists and youth from all over world to dis­cuss the is­sues.”

Sat­yarthi was a found­ing mem­ber of the Lau­re­ates and Lead­ers for Chil­dren foun­da­tion, which brings No­bel lau­re­ates and world lead­ers, in­clud­ing King Ab­dul­lah of Jor­dan, Pana­ma­nian Pres­i­dent Juan Car­los Varela Ro­driguez and for­mer Ir­ish pres­i­dent Mary Robin­son, to­gether to raise aware­ness around is­sues af­fect­ing chil­dren. The or­gan­i­sa­tion held its first meet­ing

About 10,000 chil­dren went miss­ing in Europe last year. They may have been taken by some­one with du­bi­ous in­ten­tions KAILASH SAT­YARTHI Lau­re­ates and Lead­ers for Chil­dren

in Delhi in 2016, and it has al­ready achieved some notable re­sults. “That first meet­ing of Lau­re­ates and Lead­ers had its out­comes and rec­om­men­da­tions brought be­fore the G20 sum­mit, and ac­tu­ally in­cor­po­rated into the G20’s agenda, which was a great re­sult for us,” Sat­yarthi says.

For Sat­yarthi, this kind of aware­ness rais­ing is cru­cial to the suc­cess of his work. “It’s chal­leng­ing, but once we bring these is­sues to the public and po­lit­i­cal dis­course, peo­ple can’t ig­nore it so we try to en­cour­age young peo­ple in col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties to speak out,” he says.

“We have launched the 100 Mil­lion Cam­paign to mo­bilise the youth and make them spokes­peo­ple and de­ci­sion mak­ers. Once you raise that strong, loud, moral voice then gov­ern­ments can’t ig­nore it.”

Sat­yarthi has ded­i­cated al­most his en­tire life to his good works. He had a brief ca­reer as an en­gi­neer at the be­hest of his par­ents, but gave it up in 1980 to fo­cus on chil­dren’s rights, and his de­sire to make a dif­fer­ence goes back much far­ther than that. “For me, this be­gan in child­hood, on my very first day at school,” he says. “I saw a tod­dler sit­ting out­side the school gate with his fa­ther, try­ing to shine shoes. Of course, we didn’t need our shoes shined be­cause it was our first day at school.”

The im­age struck Sat­yarthi, and he im­me­di­ately in­quired of his new teacher why the boy wasn’t in school with his other class­mates. “He was sur­prised, but ex­plained that it’s not un­com­mon for some chil­dren to have to work to sup­port their fam­i­lies. The same an­swer was given by my fam­ily and par­ents, but it just wasn’t con­vinc­ing me,” he says.

The in­quis­i­tive child took it upon him­self to ask the boy and his fa­ther di­rectly, but the an­swer still wasn’t to his sat­is­fac­tion. “The boy was shy, but his fa­ther said: ‘I never re­ally thought about it. I started work­ing when I was a boy to sup­port my fam­ily, and this is the same. Per­haps you don’t know that we peo­ple are born to work’.”

The idea that some chil­dren were born to work at the ex­pense of their child­hood and ed­u­ca­tion did not sit com­fort­ably with Sat­yarthi, and when he was 11 he be­gan col­lect­ing old books and money to help ed­u­cate less for­tu­nate chil­dren. In­deed, for all the vi­tal work Sat­yarthi has car­ried out fight­ing child traf­fick­ing and slav­ery, it’s this right to ed­u­ca­tion that he sees as the most vi­tal part of his work, and the No­bel prize-win­ner says that if he could force the UN to carry out just one task to help the world’s chil­dren, it would be in the field of ed­u­ca­tion.

“Ev­ery child should be brought to a school, now,” he says firmly. “That is sim­ply the most im­por­tant thing for the whole fu­ture of hu­man­ity.”


Kailash Sat­yarthi says chil­dren’s rights need protecting in places such as Syria

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