‘Children should become their own voices’

In an exclusive interview with ParentCircle, Nobel Peace Prize winner, Kailash Satyarthi, talks about his success and his crusade against child labour in India.

By Rajesh Viswanathan


‘Children should become their own voices’


It was a quiet Friday afternoon when most minds were already into the weekend. Then came the announcement that awakened the nation, literally. Kailash Satyarthi, the man behind the relentless crusade to save children from exploitation, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 2014. It was an early Diwali gift for the world’s largest democracy.

Satyarthi, who runs the NGO, Bachpan Bachao Aandolan (Save Childhood Movement), is only the second Indian after Mother Teresa to win the coveted prize. As the world chased him for the elusive quote, his website crashed but not his spirit. The 60-year-old child rights activist handled the media frenzy with enormous patience, a trait that makes him so dear to children from over a 100 countries.

When ParentCircle contacted him for a freewheeling chat, Satyarthi was very excited to be talking to a magazine that is very close to his favourite subject, children.

PC: This is a very proud moment for you and for India. What was your reaction the moment you realised you won the Nobel Prize?

KS: The first reaction? Well, I wondered if I had done enough to be getting this award. But yes, it did make me feel very happy. More importantly, it made me realise that this is just the beginning of a long journey ahead. It is an honour not just for me but for all the Indians who have supported me in this crusade. Children, parents, schools, colleges, my staff members and everyone associated with my project deserves all the credit for this special moment.

PC: You are involved in something really tough. In a country like India, it is not easy to be a child-rights activist.

KS: It purely has to do with compassion for children. I was 6 when I was struck by something really hard. I was on my way to school and suddenly came across a father-son duo working as cobblers. When I looked at that kid, I told myself - Here I was, with all the things a schoolboy should get and there he was, struggling to make ends meet at such a young age. I was angry that day, yes I was. My anger increased when I heard what the father of that little child had to say. “We people are born to work,” he said with a resigned look on his face. I just couldn’t come to terms with what I saw there. I decided then that I wanted to grow up and do something for such children. In 1980, I gave up my job as a teacher and founded the organisation, Bachpan Bachao Aandolan.

PC: What’s your take on child slavery? Are people more educated on that front today than they were before, say 20 years ago?

KS: Things have definitely improved and with more awareness, we can gradually work towards eradicating child slavery completely. In this regard, we are having an important event lined up in November – End Child Slavery Week. This is an annual event that places strong emphasis on individuals and organisations coming together to get rid of the child slavery mess. We need to work towards inclusion of abolition of child slavery into sustainable development. That will be our goal in this year’s event.

PC: Is there a correlation between education system and child exploitation?

KS: Yes, definitely. We must ensure every child gets access to quality education. Parents should ensure they send their children to school. Social institutions and government bodies should take all possible measures to change the scenario. Things have been changing but the change has not been quick enough. But, even before we can change the educational system, we need to change the social system.

PC: UNICEF has come out and said this award will serve as a big inspiration for millions of children.

KS: Yes it will and I will be the happiest person if I see more smiles on the little faces in the world. I hate it whenever a child is seen as a pitiable face. A child can be a great source of strength for elders. They are so innocent and honest. If they get drawn into wrong things in life, it certainly is not their fault. It purely has to do with the environment around them. Each time I see a rescued kid smile, my day is made. The joy I derive from that moment is simply unimaginable and I just cannot describe it.

PC: You seem to be so much in love with children.

KS: Yes, they are my source of inspiration. For me, Children should be their own liberators. They should become their own voices and they should always be in the driving seat. In 1998, during the Global March against Child Labour, the voice of the child was heard and the same reflected in the ILO Convention in Geneva. Most importantly, it was the children who represented their cause directly to prime ministers and presidents, and that clearly showed the kind of power and wisdom little ones are gifted with. Their moral power too is amazing.

PC: What do children mean to Kailash Satyarthi?

KS: (Smiles) Children mean simplicity. In fact, I keep telling everyone I meet (adults) – Don’t let the child inside you die. If you remain a child through your lifetime, you will see great joy and meaning in living a wonderful life. So, if you don’t feel happy, simply revive the child in you.


‘Children should become their own voices’


PC: We keep seeing that parents push their kids a lot these days, especially in academics. Does that worry you?

KS: (Laughs) Well, I am not a priest and I am not sure I am a good preacher either. But yes, if I was a child, I’d expect parents to be like friends and will tell them – 'Don’t pamper us too much and don’t do charity. Just have confidence in us and you will see the way we progress in life.'

PC: Malala is a young crusader herself. How happy are you for her?

KS: I am very happy for Malala. I spoke to her after the announcement and we both work towards significant causes that can impact the society and I am proud she has won this award too.

PC: ParentCircle is also working towards the betterment of parents and children, and to help improve the quality of family life.

KS: I am very glad you (ParentCircle) are doing things for the betterment of the society. I invite you to join my crusade and I also assure you of joining in yours. Together, we can make a difference.