Mumbai: Less than 4% of the country's budget is spent on 41% of its population under the age of 18. With the Union Budget around the corner, Nobel Peace Prize winner Kailash Satyarthi hopes that's something the government will soon rectify. While the ministry of woman and child development had its budgets slashed last year, Satyarthi says he will be upset if the government does not allocate enough funds for its youth and children this time round.
The power of India's youth is an idea that Satyarthi is well-acquainted with, having battled child labour and slavery for much of his life, a battle for which Satyarthi, his family and his colleagues have faced frequent attacks.
He began his campaign against child labour in 1981, nearly a decade before the UN convention on the rights of the child, and a long time before the discourse on child labour was in vogue. He began his struggle when many questioned the need to battle child labour. After all, it was expected that poor children would work. Back then, many felt it was an education of sorts for children to work in factories, and that there was nothing wrong if they learnt "something traditional" instead of going to school.
Ironically, Satyarthi says there are still policy-makers across political party lines who believe some forms of child labour are part of India's "sanskar", and that children are learning some skills through labour.
Satyarthi is clear that child labour is non-negotiable. He feels many of India's child labour laws are obsolete, redundant and weak. His organization is working towards changing India's legal framework on child rights and preventing amendments that will further weaken child labour laws.
According to an International Labour Organisation convention, no child under 14 in a developing country should be put to work. Satyarthi and his organization are campaigning for Indian laws that meet international standards. Indian laws allow children below 14 to work in non-hazardous industries. Ironically, India's list of hazardous industries does not include agriculture, where the vast majority of child labourers are employed. Satyarthi, though, wants a ban on all children under the age of 18 working in any hazardous industry, and a ban on all children under 14 being put to work. Currently, the laws allow children aged 15-18 to work in any hazardous industry.
"The taste of freedom is divine," says Satyarthi, on his motivation for freeing children from bonded labour. When they escape their chains, he feels as if they are freeing him.