‘Education and religion are being manipulated in many parts of the world’

Child rights advocate and Nobel peace prize winner of 2014, Kailash Satyarthi was recently in Bangladesh to attend a conference on child rights, organised by Campaign for Popular Education (CAMPE). Sadiqur Rahman conversed with the individual who acted to protect the rights of more than 84,000 children from 144 countries of the world.

You founded the ‘Bachpan Bachao Andolon’ in 1980. How did the movement play a significant role at addressing issues affecting children in India and other countries of the world?
007The root cause of child labour is not simply for poverty, it is a denial of human dignity. So I started fighting for it. In 90s, the western community started thinking about child rights and preparation for an international convention on child rights was started and then finally adopted in 1989. So in 1981, when I started my work, it was very difficult. The issue of child labour was unacknowledged by Indian legislation in public discourse and by the media. During that time, fighting child labour was not only a seemingly insurmountable task, rather extremely dangerous as a tradition of bonding poor children with worst jobs was very common in many parts of India .
We used course of law or preventive measures to protect the children. But it all came up after we started training children physically, going and conducting secret rescue operations and rescued many of the bonded child workers. We brought them before the media and society and showed that this was not simple. It was a serious issue. Then some of my friends and I launched Bachpan Bachao Andolon or Save Childhood Movement.
We knew that it was not easy for one person or a small group of people to launch a mass movement. Since 1981 till now, we have physically rescued more than 84 thousand children from bonded child labour or slavery. We have set up some rehabilitation programmes as models, and asked the government and civil societies, NGO to replicate them. We succeeded to make education a fundamental human right in the Constitution of the Indian law.
Important milestones have been the ratification of the 1986 Enactment of Child Labour Act by the Parliament of India and the 1999 ILO Convention 182 on the elimination of the worst forms of child labour. The latter was adopted following the Global March Against Child Labour- started in 1998, which has culminated in Geneva and played a large role through its members and partners in the adoption of the convention globally. The six month long global march, the 80 thousand kilometre physical march, crossed 103 countries.

There are three types of education system in Bangladesh- English, general and madrassa (Religious teaching)-based mediums. Do you think that the prevailing education system can encourage equality in society?
The most important things are the educators and learners. Both must understand the value of education or the purpose of education. The purpose of education is to unleash the hidden potential of the human being. And the potentials must be used for the betterment of that person as well as for the entire society and humanity. It should not be at the cost of society, culture and ecology. So we have to impart that education as a power of human being which does not divide the society rather connects the humanity.
And that’s why education has to have a strong value of global citizenship. It should be rational, should take forward and take the entire nation to the whole world.

It is alarming that children are now being used in militancy. In South Asia, children are being taught such religious lessons which are intentionally distorted. How do you feel this is going to affect these children later in their lives?
As I said before that education should teach humanity, mutual respect, patience, tolerance and peace. That is indeed the purpose of religion. That is the purpose of education. But education and religion are being manipulated in many parts of the world. That is not acceptable. People should know that this can be a disaster to mankind. Not just in South Asia, such a trend can happen anywhere in the world; it can happen in Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Syria, Yemen or Afghanistan. The world of hatred, intolerance and revenge if linked with any education system, is not good for any religion, any humankind.

Various news reports recently revealed that earth quake-hit Nepalese children are being trafficked to other countries. What is your reaction about this?
In any manmade or any natural disaster, the worst victims are children. If there is any insurgence, any war or communal violence and conflict, children suffer most. In natural disasters- cyclone, flood or earth-quake, similar to the one that recently hit Nepal, the impoverished South Asian country, children are the worst victims.
The children end up losing their schools. As there remains no infrastructure for schooling in many places of Nepal, it would be very difficult to rebuild the schools within a short time. But the serious danger in such cases is that a large number of children can be trafficked. And the traffickers and their gangs find these places easier as some of the children become orphans, some lose contact with their parents, others lose their properties etc. So this kind of situation results in attracting those traffickers to go and offer money to buy the children or sometimes kidnap the children.
I am very concerned about the situation and have been talking to Nepalese government, politicians and other people to stop trafficking. People should have knowledge about it. Even the relief agencies and the future rehabilitation agencies must be aware of this fact that sometimes in the guise of NGOs, relief or humanitarian aid workers, traffickers go and take the children. So I urge the Nepalese authority to check child trafficking. This kind of awareness needs to be raised.

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