Bhubaneswar, October 13: Winning a Nobel Prize was not something that was on the mind of this man who embarked on a mission, some 37 years ago, to make the world a safe place for children. Instead of leading a life of comfort working as an electrical engineer, Nobel Laureate Kailash Satyarthi has been relentlessly fighting to protect children’s rights.
Among the most renowned children’s rights advocates and activists in the country, Satyarthi founded the Bachpan Bachao Andolan (Save the Childhood Movement) in 1980, which expanded his mission’s impact and made it a success in 144 countries world over, while saving thousands of children from exploitation.
He was recently in Odisha to conduct his ‘Bharat Yatra’ protesting against child sexual abuse and exploitation, when MCL caught up with him for an exclusive conversation about his journey and mission. Excerpts.
Instead of pursuing a lucrative career as an engineer, why and how did you turn into an activist?
Since I can remember, I have always raised my voice against what I saw was wrong or unjustified. Injustice has been a prevalent vice in our society and I wanted to fight against the evil practice. In 1980, I was selected as the Secretary General for the Bonded Labor Liberation Front. There, I noticed many children engaged in child labour out of compulsion. That is when I founded the ‘BachapanBachaoAndolan’ to fight for their rights.
Your work in this field has been recognised worldwide leading you to receive the Nobel Prize. Do you feel the recognition came in quite late?
I never envisioned any kind of prize or appreciation for my work; I was just doing what I felt was important. It has no effect on my work. So, timely or delayed appreciation does not make a difference to my mission.
What are the main reasons behind crime against children in our society?
The prime cause of increasing rates of crime against children is our silence and certain practices embedded in our culture. In our country, a child is usually taught to keep silent against such crimes to protect family’s respect. Children are also vulnerable in many ways as they are unable to explain their problem and are scared of their parents. Thus, most of the cases do not even come to the knowledge of the elders and the culprit goes scot-free. The culprits also take advantage of the irony that exists in our society where the victim is targeted to social stigma while ages pass before the culprit is punished for his/her crime.
How can we reduce it from our society and spread awareness?
People have to raise their voice and cannot afford to stay silent. Children have to be educated about such problems, so that they can understand and express themselves if they are ever targeted to such crimes. Parents must be friendly with their children and help them share everything that happens in their lives. Moreover, the society should learn to place the taboo on the perpetrator and not the victim.
Which are the most vulnerable surroundings for children as well as their most vulnerable period?
In most cases, it is seen that kids have been abused by their close relatives or some close acquaintances. In a heart wrenching experience where I recently met a minor girl who complained that after several requests to save her, she failed to rescue herself from her father and was sexually abused by him. So, there is no such space where your child can be safe. We have to educate them to fight against these heinous acts and so that they are prepared to retaliate when under threat. Moreover, there is no particular period of vulnerability. Victims are of different age groups. The younger the child is, the more vulnerable he/she is as they cannot explain what they might have gone through. This can negatively impact their psychology as they grow up.
What outcome do you expect after organising such a big awareness event in Odisha?
I feel it has been a historical day for Odisha as the Bharat Yatra movement saw the participation of more than thousands of people who are determined to make their state peaceful and safe for children and women. It has also never happened before that such a large number of youth and children have walked together protesting against child abuse, rape and trafficking. This protest is a promising beginning of elimination of these crimes from the society and a defeat of sick mentality of certain sections of people.
Is there any legal procedure or act to protest against child abuse and trafficking that you want to be implemented in the country?
There are already several rules in place to punish the perpetrators of such crimes, but most of them haven’t been incorporated properly. Just like the Protection Of Children From Sexual Offences (POSCO) Act, the Juvenile Justice Act and the thus the Juvenile Justice Board was also constituted exclusively for this purpose. But no significant action has been taken against the culprits under this Act. Last year, nearly 15,000 cases were registered under this Act, of which only in four per cent of the cases, culprits were punished, while in six percent of the cases, the accused were acquitted. Over 90 percent of the cases are pending in different courts. It will take nearly 10 or even 40 years in some of the states for these cases to be sorted out. So, instead of solely relying on the legal system for justice and protection, we need to work on public awareness and raise our voice against crime against children in our country.
What message would you convey to all the parents of young children?
Parents should stand up against crime committed against children and teach their kids to raise their voice against all kinds of abusive acts or exploitation. Being friendly with their child may help them share their problems and empower the parents to protect their children from trouble.