'To employ children is illegal and unethical': Activist Kailash Satyarthi
Ananya Gupta & Nittika Mehra,TNN | Jun 22, 2014, 06.16 PM IST
Activist Kailash Satyarthi is the founder of Bachpan Bachao Andolan, an NGO that works on freeing children from bonded labour. He spoke with The Times of India about his work and more.
What inspired you to work towards alleviation of child labour?
Even as a child, I was passionate about issues related to child labour. On my first day of school, I saw a child of my age sitting on the doorsteps of my school along with his father. They were cobblers. It was the first time that I saw a contrast in the lives of two kids. I asked my teacher, we are sitting in the classroom and that boy is sitting outside, working. Why is that? My teacher was a little surprised. He said, "They are poor and it is not uncommon for a boy to be working." I asked my headmaster the same question. He said the same thing, more or less. I was from a background that was neither rich nor poor, so I hadn't heard about poverty. My teacher and my headmaster were telling me that these people were in this position due to poverty. I saw the boy everyday for several days.
One day while coming back from school, I gathered courage, went up to the father and asked him why he didn't send his son to school. The father told me that no one had ever asked him this before and he had never thought of it. His father worked as a boy, so did he and now even his son. He said they were born to work. I could not understand this — why people are born to work. It's because of the caste system, definitely. So that went on and I could not find the answer for a very long time. I realized that many of my friends left school as it was expensive and education was not free at that time. Around the age of 12, I began to collect used textbooks and pocket money for poor children. I realized this is not the real solution. I completed my engineering and started teaching. I realized that engineering is not for me and took up this cause.
How do you identify areas which are prone to child labour or have children working in them?
BBA has been working in this field for over 30 years. We receive information from a large network of volunteers — approximately, 80,000. Our activists are working all over the world. A lot of research and investigation is required to identify these areas. Sometimes the parents inform us. The media also plays a vital role.
What has been the most exciting child rescue mission so far?
All of my rescue missions have been exciting. Rescuing children or a child gives you a feeling that cannot be expressed in words. However, I will elaborate on a recent rescue of a girl from Assam a month ago. She had been missing since 5-6 years. One day, the girl called up the father and told him that she was in Delhi. The father came to Delhi in search for her. After his third attempt to search for her, he contacted us, and after a period of time we got to know that the girl was in Punjabi Bagh working as a domestic help. We went to rescue the girl. On seeing the father, the girl cried and screamed loudly and went inside the house. Sensing something is wrong, the women activists who were with me went to see inside what had happened.
The girl couldn't face the father as she was raped by the trafficker and was pregnant. She wanted to commit suicide. She was 15-16 years old and didn't know what to do.
According to you what steps can be taken to protect children from being exploited?
Consumers can boycott goods and services that involve children in manufacturing goods. Don't accept hospitality from restaurants and shops or roadside dhabas that employ children. Have courage to tell them that you refuse to eat there because they have employed children, which is a crime. It is illegal, immoral and unethical. This will put psychological pressure on the industries. You can also demand a guarantee from the shops you visit, be it sporting goods, or even clothes, that they do not employ children. Even if you do not buy anything, just simply question the salesman whether he can guarantee that no child labour was involved in the production of their goods.
Social media is now a way to prevent exploitation. With just a touch of a button you can create quite a lot of noise which is a different way of raising a voice. You may not chant a slogan on the streets but you can create an even bigger impact with your gadgets.
Do personal attacks on you, your team and your offices in retaliation to rescue missions unnerve you? What keeps you going?
It's a part of life. We're working with broken families and broken people who have lost all hope and are helpless. If people criticize me, oppose my work, launch personal attacks, we know that we are on the right path. One of my colleagues was shot and another was beaten to death. I myself have been injured my shoulder, leg, back and head. All my activists have experienced this. What we are working against is a social evil. If this evil is not reacting or retaliating it means we are not a threat to it.
What is the philosophy you live by when times look bleak?
My philosophy is that I am a friend of the children. I don't think anyone should see them as pitiable subjects or charity. That is old people's rhetoric. People often relate childish behaviour to stupidity or foolishness. This mindset needs to change. I want to level the playing field where I can learn from the children. Something I can learn from children is transparency. They are innocent, straightforward, and have no biases. I relate children to simplicity and I think that my friendship with children has a much deeper meaning than others.