All Indians Must Strongly Support Nobel Winner Satyarthi’s “Bachpan Bachao Andolan”

From among the record 278 nominees, which included Pope Francis, on Oct. 10, The Norwegian Nobel Committee announced the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize winner. The committee selected Kailash Satyarthi from India along with Pakistan’s Malala Yousufzai to share the peace price, both of them activists for the rights of the children.

Some critics  believe that that the decision to award this year’s Nobel peace  “is hugely political and ambitious”.  This view underscores the sacrifice and dedication for a cause of the two winners. “The work of Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Yousafzai represents the struggle of millions of children around the world. This is an award for human rights defenders who are willing to dedicate themselves entirely to promoting education and the rights of the world’s most vulnerable children”. said  Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International . He further adds that  “The Nobel Prize Committee has recognized the fundamental importance of child rights for the future of our world. The choice of winners shows that this is an issue that matters to us all, no matter what our age, gender, country or  religion,”

Both Malala and Satyarthi have been fighting for the right of every child for shelter, education, and  health care .  Let us recall what Malala has said: “Let us not forget that one book, one pen, one child and one teacher can change the world.”  Satyarthi has been sending out the same message. He argues that education is a right, not just an opportunity. It is the only weapon to win the war against the caste system. It is the key to opening up equal opportunities for girls and women and to putting an end to child slavery and child trafficking -“Poverty drives many parents into pushing their children into work instead of sending them to school”. “Over 40 percent of India’s children drop out of schools before finishing 8th grade, despite the TRE law designed to provide free and compulsory elementary education for all. Most students who quit school are from the lowest rungs of Indian society”, (Jayshree and Amy BraunScweiger, April 2014). With eight million children never having stepped inside a school and 80 million dropping out without completing basic schooling, the United Nations Children’s Fund has described the situation as a national emergency.

A country becomes powerful when its people become educated, and Japan did that with “Meiji’s Restoration” in 1868 under Emperor Meiji. In India real work has to be done on teacher quality, classroom teaching, effective school functioning and improved school management especially in rural areas. The focus has to be on improving the way of teaching because poor outcomes are a result of poor schooling and poor teaching. “As many as 95 per cent teaching aspirants numbering over two lakhs, in the country have flunked the all-India Central Teacher Eligibility Test (CTET) meant to assess their knowledge and instruction abilities”, (Tribune News service, Oct.8, 2014). Most of these candidates hold BED  degrees, calling into question the quality of teacher education being imparted in universities. As if this was not bad enough news that close to 50 per cent of the class V pupils in our schools fail to read a text meant for class II or solve a two-digit sum. It is a damn pity that none of the Indian Institutes of higher learning figured among the top 200 world university ranking, which was  done two weeks ago.

Mr. Satyarthi, an electrical engineer, has said that  “he first became aware of child labour as a six-year-old when he saw a boy  of his age cleaning shoes instead of attending school”. At the age of 26 Satyarthi gave up his career and dedicated his life to helping the millions of children in India who were forced into slavery  He founded the “Bachpan Bachao Andolan”,  and has led the rescue of over 78,500 children from bondage. “The dream of development and child slavery cannot co-exist. Time is running out,” says Kailash Satyarthi. He has passionately argued that child trafficking and labour perpetuate poverty, unemployment, illiteracy and population growth. Poverty and overpopulation have been identified as the two main causes of child labour. Parents are forced to send little children into hazardous jobs for reason of survival, even when they know it is wrong. Monetary constraints and the need for food, shelter and clothing drive their children in the trap of premature labour.  Let us have a close look at garments in our closets- what brand of clothing we have now? Where was your shirt made? Do you know what went into the making of your clothes? It could be the sweat, tears or blood of a child. Child labour is a human rights issue , a serious and extensive problem. Some homeless children, 50,00 in Delhi alone, doing manual labour or begging, sleeping on pavement and wondering which corner of this huge country was meant for them. They too have the right to shelter, education and health care.

“To employ children is illegal and unethical,” Satyarthi has written on the Global March Against Child Labor website. “If not now, then when? If not you, then who? If we are able to answer these fundamental questions, then perhaps we can wipe away the blot of human slavery.” There are 165 million children toiling as child laborers around the globe, a number that Indian activist Kailash Satyarthi has dedicated his life to reducing. More than 11 percent of children in India were involved in child labor in 2012, according to UNICEF

Even though, to curb the rampant spread of child labour across the country. The Union cabinet of India, in 2012, approved the amendments to the Child Labour (Prohibition & Regulation) Act, 1986, putting a blanket ban on employing anybody below 18 years in hazardous occupation.  The situation did not change a bit. The persistence of child labour is due to the inefficiency of the law,  weak enforcement of the law by politicized administration, and  because some employers circumvent the law by subcontracting,  and by claiming false familial ties and fake identities

Congratulatory messages poured in from President  and Prime Minister of India, President Obama and other world leaders. The Indian prime minister Narendra Modi said the “entire nation is proud of his momentous achievement”. Let us ask Mr. Modi if he, with his huge majority in the parliament, can set the rotten education system right by finding ways to keep the children in schools till at least they reach the age 14; improve the teaching quality in schools and universities; check the discriminatory treatment meted out to children from poor and backward classes; improve the sanitary conditions in all schools , especially in rural schools; create an aspiring and empathetic classroom atmosphere in order to inculcate in children a curiosity and love for learning, regardless of their socio-economic or ethnic background. He must make sure that no body including  a police officer, get served  at tea-stalls and dhabas, or any other service outlet, by anyone under 14. These steps will go a long way in improving the  horrible situation of child slavery situation.

Let us hope that Mr. Narendra Modi strengthens “Bachpan Bachao Andola“; makes the existing laws  against child labour, more effective to protect the”Gods lesser children”.

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