No more bombs’, ‘No more missiles’, ‘No more guns’, ‘No more tools in tiny hands’, ‘We want books’, ‘We want schools’,’ We want toys’, ‘Stop stop child labour’, ‘Down with child labour’ ‘Long live Global March,’ ‘We want education’, – these were the enthusiastic slogans of the children which reverberated in the air at the World Social Forum. It was momentous. The anguish of 246 million children entrapped in exploitative child labour found their expression in these heart-rending chanting of the local children and the former child labourers.
“Children are the future of the country but they are working. I want to ask the governments, what their future is?” said Pintu, a former child stone crusher.
The March at the World Social Forum
Hundreds of former child labourers made their strong presence felt at the World Social Forum. Scores of school children from Mumbai also participated in the march expressing their solidarity and raised slogans against child labour. The colourful demonstration took place amidst a crowd of over 100,000 with children shouting slogans, singing revolutionary songs and performing street plays to communicate about the evils of child labour. The march was flagged off by an eminent local film celebrity, Mahesh Bhatt who announced that the Global March is on and will continue until a single child is ensured his/her rights, liberty, and proper education. Under the banner, “A World Without Child Labour is Possible”, former child labourers, the representatives of various partners of Global March partners, Trade Unions, civil society, youth committee and Dalit groups (the “untouchables” of India) joined in the demonstration to express their solidarity and support and to strengthen the cause of the movement. The most prominent were the Global March regional coordinators from Europe, Mani Tese – Georgia and Maria Rosa., the ICFTU (the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions ) representative, Cecelia Brighi, the South Asian coordinator- Gauri Pradhan, Paul Bhaskar, the national coordinator of India and the youth group of MV foundation with its leading anti-child labour activist and Magsaysay award winner, Dr. Shanta Sinha. Enthused by the overwhelming participation and response, thousands of Indian and international viewers on the street also joined in the March.
This was also an occasion where the Global March observed its sixth anniversary on January 17th, 2004. The Global March movement began on January 17, 1998 with a worldwide march when thousands of people marched together to jointly put forth the message against child labour. It was an 80,000 km march through Asia, Europe and the Americas. Marching from Manila, the participants reached Geneva, winning the support of millions of children and adults. This march finally culminated at the ILO Conference in Geneva. The voice of the marchers was heard and reflected in the draft of the ILO Convention against the worst forms of child labour. Today with some 147 countries having ratified the convention, this has become the fastest ratified convention in the history of ILO conventions. The march is still active through its 2000 partners in over 144 countries. To quote our Chairperson, Kailash Satyarthi “Till date, we have not stopped our march. We are marching! Six years after the physical march we haven’t stopped our march against child slavery and exploitation. However, the mode of the march has changed, and the movement is getting stronger and stronger.”
Activities of the Global March at the World Social Forum
The Global March Against Child Labour actively participated in the World Social Forum by setting up stalls and distributing posters and pamphlets to sensitise the masses and render an insight into the evils of child labour. The senior staff members of Global March and SACCS, Dr. Vidyasagar, Advocacy Coordinator, Dr. Gopal Krishna Iyer and few others spoke on the panel discussions to reinforce and propagate the campaigning ideology of Global March, i.e. the creation of Triangular Paradigm on Child Rights Protection. Triangular Paradigm is establishing the linkage between child labour, poverty alleviation and eradication of child labour in the context of globalisation.
Children condemn child labour through Mukti Caravan (Campaign on Wheels)
The South Asian Coalition on Child Servitude, the Indian nodal partner of Global March participated through the Mukti Caravan (Campaign on Wheels) which constituted of children freed from slavery and now turned into street theatre activists. These children travel across cities and villages to raise mass awareness against child labour by performing street plays and singing songs. Even today there are 6 crores or 60 millions of children caught in child labour and child slavery in India.
Mukti Caravan had performed about 50 street plays at the WSF, led by Rakesh Senger on child labour and education, based on themes like –“What will a girl do by studying”(The common Indian psyche is “ A girl should be confined to household chores only. She need not go to school. Through this parody, children sought to challenge the age-old myth persisting in India), “Where have the children gone?”(The play portrayed the lives of children working in the agricultural fields, stone quarries, factories and other industries) , and “Today’s society” (This particular play depicted the reality of some of the social problems affection our society like child labour, illiteracy, unemployment , poverty and population exploitation) and many more.
‘Spartacus Returns’ – a beautiful rendition by the children
Amongst the several activities of the Global March at the World Social Forum, one particular event is worth mentioning. Janmostava, an Indian theater group that focuses on child labor issues, in Bangalore, India in collaboration with Global March made a spectacular street theatre presentation, ‘Spartacus Returns’ based on a historical legend where Spartacus, a freeborn, was sold as slave to the Romans to be made a gladiator. A huge pyramid was created where a child portraying ‘Spartacus’ stood on the top with a burning torch reminding that slavery still exists and the children are still the worst victims. The excitement was rife in the air as the message cut across the crowd and was loud and clear; the urgency was marked—“We need to liberate all the modern day slavery from the shackles of servitude”.
Kailash Satyarthi’s message
In his address to the enthusiastic demonstrators, Kailash Satyarthi, the Chairperson of Global March said, “When a child cries, we turn to her. When a group of children cry out for an end to child labour, the entire world must hear and act. A world without child labour is possible when policy makers and world leaders listen to the children’s demands”. “The Children’s World Congress will give opportunity to the children to question the leaders what effective steps they are taking to ensure the rights of all children,” he added. He further quoted that globalisation is creating a new kind of power troika where the powers of corporate, state and knowledge are fused together. And that the only way to bring equity, justice and ensure education for all children is by bringing a sense of emergency.
Message of support from UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan
In his message of support, UN Secretary – General, Kofi Annan called on the world community to make ending child labour a common cause. “Few human rights abuses are so widely condemned, yet so widely practised,” he quoted. “The big challenge, as so often, lies in the implementation of good intentions. The Global March Against Child Labour inspires us in that mission. Let us make it a priority. Because a child in danger is a child that cannot wait.”