How Kailash Satyarthi discovered his lifelong mission
“Some sort of spark was generated when I was only…five and a half years old. It was the first day of my schooling, when I was entering into school, I saw a boy my age sitting outside. I stood for a while and I asked my teacher, when I went in my classroom, why is he not with us in a classroom? I asked to my headmaster and later on to my friends and family members, and all of them tried to convince me that it is not uncommon, that children have to work if they’re poor and nothing is special in it.
“For me it was a life long question, that why are some children born to work? Why are some children working at the cost of their childhood and education and freedom and dreams and aspirations and future? For me it was unconvincing. It was unacceptable. So I refuse to accept it.”
What inspires him to keep going
“Me and my colleagues have been able to rescue 83,000 children from these conditions of slavery and trafficking and exploitation…When I free a child, who lost all hope that she can ever go back and hug her mother or sit in her lap, and it happens and I help in doing so, the first smile of joy of freedom appears on the face of that girl or boy – it’s divine…I can say with pride that I have seen God. Not once, not twice, not hundreds but thousands of times in my life.”
On dealing with opposition
“I never thought that I can hate them. How could I hate someone? I hate the evil. I hate slavery. I hate the way they are exploiting children, but I don’t hate them. But definitely they hated me. They wanted to take some revenge once I free the children from their houses or lands or factories or mines. It happens. I was attacked several times. When I am talking to you, since last two or three days, I am having a severe pain in my shoulder because my shoulder is having some serious injuries. A ligament. And so is my left leg. I have broken my left foot, and my backbone is broken. My ribs are broken. I have scars on all my body. I tell you, I tell you that these scars and these injuries are nothing in comparison to human freedom.”
Solving the problem of child labor and slavery
“Well the fight against child labor and child slavery, there is a very thin line between them, is not something, which you can win with some isolated approaches. The problem is quite complex. There is a strong element of social cultural mindset. There is another element, which we are talking about: the crime, and illegal earning. Then the third element is also about the social and economic exclusion and inequalities pervading in society. Poverty is a part of it. So we have to attack this evil through many dimensions and many corners.”
The role of education in social justice
“Education is key to social justice and empowerment. And it is so interlinked in the fight against child labor that we cannot achieve one with the other. I have been a big advocate of the general paradigm, what I call it. Poverty, illiteracy, and child labor.”
Appealing to the United Nations for policy support
“I have been demanding to the United Nations General Assembly, UN Secretary General, as well as to the international community, to include explicit language against child slavery in the future development goal…My argument is that we cannot achieve most of the development goals without ending slavery. Human slavery, in general, child slavery in particular.”
Working with President Obama and other world leaders
“Well I had a very good meeting with the White House today. And a couple of months ago I had a very good meeting with President Obama when he was visiting India and the First Lady, both. And we have discussed all these issues of child labor, child slavery, the role of corporate sector, rather the responsibility and the accountability of the international corporations. We did work on it.
“We demanded that US should take a lead role in inclusion of this explicit language against child slavery in the future development agenda. That could be the beginning of it. And then US can take an important role in realization of that particular aspect of child slavery and the broader development paradigm. I hope that it will happen because President Obama was very positive when I spoke to him about it during my meeting. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was very, very positive and I think that Mr. Moon will take it up and he in principle agreed with that. I spoke to a number of other presidents and prime ministers, queens, et cetera to help with this. Nobody can say that child slavery is inevitable, child slavery can continue or should continue. Nobody can say, but the question is the political will. We have to have the global, political will against the menace of child slavery.”
Working at the local level
“Wherever the power is decentralized, of course with a lot of preparation, wherever the democracy is authentic and inclusive and vibrant, wherever the people feel the responsibility, and the governance also is professional and honest, then we will see positive changes on the ground…Governance must be in place. And the people from the ground should be convinced that they are going to make their community a child friendly community, or their city is a child friendly city.”
Dangers created by the recent earthquake in Nepal
“More than 30,000 classrooms have been demolished…if we are not able to build schools and ensure education or continuity in education, then the big danger is trafficking. The children could be trafficked. They’re already in bad shape. They are traumatized. They are still facing a lot of fear and horror of earthquake…Sometimes the children are kidnapped and then brainwashed, manipulated, misused by the fanatic and religious fundamentalist forces. These children could become suicide bombers, these children could be trained for any kind of violence and terrorism. So the dangers are looming in many places.”
When his mission will be complete
“When I started in 1981, there was nothing with UNICEF, ILO, with any organization of United Nations. The UN system started assessing the magnitude of the problem about say, 16-17 years ago. And at that time, the number of child laborers in the world was – only 17 years ago – number of child laborers in the world was 260 million, approximately. And that has gone down to 168 million, just in this short time. It’s a long time for the children, but in the human history it is short time. In 17-18 years, we were able to do it. We can achieve it. The number of out-of-school children was 130 million. That has been decreased to 68 million and then now, the recent figure is 58 million.
“That’s progress, definitely…But for me, every single child matters. Even if one single child is in slavery anywhere in the world, I am not going to sit in peace. I cannot remain quiet. And I hope that others will also raise their voice, because we live in a world, which is so interconnected.”
How everyday Americans can get involved
“The world is so interconnected, at least after 9/11, it’s very clear that the problem could be born in one part of the world and the entire world has to suffer. Terrorism is interconnected and unfortunately it is growing. Global warming and climate change is interconnected, which is growing. Nobody can say that we are safe and let the world become warmer and warmer, the climate may change and we are safe. No, no. So is the issue of children. If we are not able to address the problem of children now, if we are not going to ensure them good quality, free, inclusive education, then we cannot live in a peaceful and safe world.
“So Americans must realize this, first of all, that they have to have a broader outlook. It cannot be just American outlook. The young people in America should be taught to become more global citizen. So more shared values, more shared responsibilities, more shared thinking in making this world better. So the value of global citizenship is a must here. Then as consumers, one should demand only those goods, which are free from child labor. It is not fair that the children are exploited in making Apples and soccer balls and other toys in one part of the world and you keep on using happily and saying, “No, no this is not my thing. This is not my problem.” No, it is your problem because you are part of it. And I have been saying, that if you are not a part of solution, then you are part of problem.”