NEW DELHI: Nobel laureate Kailash Satyarthi is on a mission to make sure the amendments to the Anti-Child Labour law introduced this week in Parliament do not go through. This may seem odd for a man who has been campaigning tirelessly for a tougher law to end child labour in India but he has his reasons.
Following is the full transcript of The NDTV Dialogues with Kailash Satyarthi:
NDTV: Joining me on this very special show is Kailash Satyarthi, Nobel Laureate, who has come to talk on an issue very close to his heart and Sathyarthi I think the last time you came to the studio it was over a year ago and you appealed to all MPs and said pass the new law against child labour, but today you want to say something very different.
Kailash Satyarthi: Well I appealed to all MPs from all parties again and again and again and this time also, every single minute matters in the life of these children who are enslaved, who are trafficked, who are held in hazardous situations to work day in and day out. So please listen to them, please look at them, you cannot ignore them. But again I think we are failing our children, I don't think that this law against child labour or amendment in the law of 1986 is going to be passed during this session. It is not in the priority of the politicians unfortunately.
NDTV: And you are extremely worried about the Bill that is currently in Parliament, you said it's not a priority. It's true for the last two sessions that it has been listed it has not come up, but you are very worried about this new bill as well.
Kailash Satyarthi: We welcome certain parts of it like the punishment has been increased, more deterrent actions are suggested, in-principle the age limit of employment has also been enhanced. Earlier the law was only talking about the children below the age of 14 and now it's talking about 18 years of age. These things are good but having said that there are very, very serious gray areas, mainly two. One is in that proposed amendment that there is relaxation for employing children in family establishments, in families and home based industries, so that employs large segment of children in the country under the guard of family or distant family occupations and establishments and enterprises. Secondly, the list of hazardous occupations was containing 83 occupations and processes, 18 occupations and 65 processes and that list was arrived at after a long, gradual process and that was scientific process and now suddenly amendment is suggesting to reduce it to 3, on the mining, inflammable substances and industries which come under the Factory Act.
NDTV: So when you say zari making or bangle making or bindi making, in fact many rescues your organisation has carried out over the years, you are saying now it would be legal if this new law went through?
Kailash Satyarthi: Absolutely, unfortunately we have brought out a report, which we have introduced to the Minister of Labour recently and the report is quite revealing. We have rescued, the Bachpan Bachao Andolan has rescued more than 3000 child labourers below the age of 14 between 2014 and 2015, and 21 per cent of these child labourers were working in the so called family enterprises; 83% of those children were working in those informal sectors, what they call the home based industries or the home based occupations, so 21% children could never be freed in those situations up to that age and most of the children were trafficked and enslaved. We have also freed 2000 children between the age group of 15 and 18, and 83% of these children were working in those industries, real estate that would be legal, so these children would be allowed to work in bindi, polishing, in zarimaking, carpet making and most of the work these children are doing, they would be allowed to work legally.
NDTV: And when we use the word working it actually gives a very wrong impression, it seems like they are working regular hours, they are getting a salary, they are being fed. Actually it's not working at all, it's slavery.
Kailash Satyarthi: It is modern day slavery I would say because most of these children are victims of trafficking and bonded labour system and primarily the children are more preferred to the adults because they are the cheapest source of labour. They could be forced to work long hours a day, sometimes 18 hours a day. I have freed many children who are working the whole night to fulfill their production requirements, children could be forced to stay where they are working, they may be given some quality of rough food to eat, so it's virtual slavery, they are not working freely. It is not fun for them, it is some sort of forced to work in those conditions.
NDTV: Why do you think the government is going ahead with this, the Ministry of Labour? Because you said you met the Labour Minister, we know the Standing Committee also has actually pointed out these issues and worry about how actually it is going to be implemented on the ground and raised these points. Why is the government going ahead with this?
Kailash Satyarthi: I think the present government is also following the old mindset and the old argument that there are poor people and poor families and if the children would not be helping them they will not survive. But I have been raising this issue that in India, in Brazil, in Philippines, in Pakistan, many countries, in Peru, wherever a good research has been conducted between the parallel existing on child labour and adult unemployment, we see that there is a very clear co relation between them. Normally speaking 168 million children, almost 17 crore children are working in full time jobs and on the other hand 20 crore adults are jobless. That makes a vicious circle and my argument has been that in India or many countries of fast growing economies, of course India is in fastest growing economy in BRICS especially, we have to follow that argument. We are allowing children to work or to labour or to be exploited like that economically, then the adults will remain jobless and most of the jobless adults are none other than the parents of these children. Some years ago a study has been conducted by Gandhi Institute of Studies in Varanasi, it has been revealed that most of the child labourers belong to those families where parents could not find jobs more than 100 days a year, or not given jobs because the children are preferred. So that makes a very clear vicious circle and we have to break it.
NDTV: In fact in India when we see that adult jobs, adult unemployment is rising, so people don't realize that if you give a child a job you are actually taking away from an adult getting a job, and the government's priority has been to create more jobs. Skills development, giving more jobs to adults, can't co-exist with children working.
Kailash Satyarthi: Sonia ji if you are talking about skill development, what kind of skills we have to develop? Are we going to develop skills where children are selling tea at the tea shop or are we going to develop those skills where children are doing jhaadu poocha, cleaning houses at their masters places? What kind of skills we have to develop? These skills that can compete with the rest of the world and there are ample of studies that reveal, that clearly establish that you cannot create the skilled work force until and unless they are given education, and that education should continue up to secondary schools. In India we are failing our children in the primary school accomplishments, but it is very clear that skill formation, good skill formation is possible only if we ensure good education for our children.
NDTV: But let me give you the other argument, the Sanskari argument, that this is a part ofSanskaar, what you do with the family business, where you pass on the tradition generation to generation and the children can go to school in the morning and come back and help their families in the afternoon. And the families are being harassed and that is the reason why this new law is needed.
Kailash Satyarthi: I have been writing to the Government and the top people in the government with this sanskaar argument.
NDTV: You wrote to the Prime Minister apparently.
Kailash Satyarthi: I wrote to the Prime Minister also with giving an example of Sudama and Krishna; both of them had to complete their education in Rishi Sandeepni, Muni Sandeepni. Both of them have to work, work means doing the homework and study hard because education was compulsory. I have also put in the argument of sanskaars and Vedas, which suggest that every person should be given compulsory education, what we call theBrahmchari Ashram, so that everyone should get quality education up to the age of 12, because the age was divided into four pieces up to 100. But now we don't live up to 10 years. So if we live say 80 years or 70 years, if you divide in four, at least we have to give compulsory free quality leaning and education for all our children up to the age of 20 or 18. So that is the sanskaar that is driven by the value and the teachings of our old Vedas, Upanishads and Shastras. So those who think that sanskaar is given in the childhood,sanskaar should be given in value based education system, where children can learn to help each other. Children can learn to listen to each other and to help each other so that is more important than giving sanskaar to street child students.
NDTV: But interestingly, and people will say that do you ignore the reality like this. Our own Prime Minister sold chai when he was a child and today he is the Prime Minister of our country. So in the sense do we ignore the reality of India where a child does so many things at so many different times? He studies, he helps his father out, helps his mother out. He sells chai to help his family and also gets education at the same time. That is the reality of many homes in India today.
Kailash Satyarthi: There are again many proofs and scientific studies conducted by the United States. There's a programme called UCW, Understanding Child Work, and that comes out with a very clear revelation that if you combine education with the part time work or the part time work with the education, then you are going to compromise on the quality of education. You are not able to fulfill very basic things in learning outcomes. The dropout rates are higher in those places where you have relaxation of part time work after schooling. India, for instance, has no proper system to monitor the full time education. I'll tell you, we have liberated those three thousand children below the age of 14 between 2010 and 2014. 23% of them were found attending school on the same day and these children were brought in from Bihar, West Bengal, Eastern Uttar Pradesh and they were enslaved here in Delhi and freed with the help of the Magistrate, with the Police, and when we checked back to their home villages, we found that they were attending school, the mid-day meals were being supplied to them, all these things were happening with them.
NDTV: So India's invisible really. These are statistics somewhere and the reality....
Kailash Satyarthi: The statistics are based on our own evidence, which we have collected on the basis of the children who were liberated with the help of the Judiciary.
NDTV: The word family, that's a very emotive word. You automatically feel the family is the decision-making unit who decides what's the best for the child. It shouldn't be Sonia Singh or Kailash Satyarthi or it shouldn't be the Magistrate. But you were worried about this word "family", why is that?
Kailash Satyarthi: I am very, very worried because at least a dozen times I was attacked, my family was attacked by the so called family members when we went to rescue child slaves, the children who were trafficked and put to work in extremely appalling conditions, sub human conditions. Even in the middle of the night, when we conducted secret rescue operations, we were opposed by those people, because they said, "I am Mama, I amChacha, I am Uncle, I am Maternal Uncle", all these things. You cannot control it. We said that if you talk of family, then why don't you confine it to parents? If the children are helping or learning something with the parents in their free time, then the chances of abuse and exploitation would be minimal or perhaps no chances, because the mother will realise that the child has to sleep now or has to go to school properly or complete his homework. But if you allow this large family in this definition, which is being now suggested in the amendment, then it is endless. It is endless. Because most of the heinous crimes against children are done by these family members, including sexual abuse, the so-called family members, so please stop it now and allow children to complete their basic education, primary education, but also secondary education. Our Prime Minister was present and he was very strong in his speech in the United Nations in last September, where he supported the sustainable development goals. I was also invited to speak the next day so I was addressing the General Assembly because I was engaged in many aspects of children in the SDG's. So now the SDG is suggesting not only the primary or the basic education, but quality inclusive and suitable education for children up to the completion of the secondary education. So we have to amend the law on education to make sure that all children complete their education, because that is the global commitment now and we are applauding that global commitment as a nation. So I think we have to be progressive rather than becoming regressive on it.
NDTV: I remember interviewing you before your Nobel Prize and that you were a crusader against the system and I'd said that most government people didn't listen to you. And even at that time you had questioned the Minister on the programme. Now that you are actually; you are a Nobel Laureate and why is it that the government and you aren't on the same page? Because in essence you would think that the goals are the same. Why is it that you still have to still speak out and urge the system
Kailash Satyarthi: I think Sonia ji...
NDTV: You are a headache for the system in some way Sir.
Kailash Satyarthi: No, no, no. Some people might be thinking like that but they don't say it openly. So this is a question which needs to be asked to them so please do it. But at least I'm able to speak to most of them and they listen carefully. They show respect but showing respect to Kailash Satyarthi is not important. More important is to ensure that every single child is free to become a child; every single child is free to complete education and free to enjoy the fullest of his, her childhood. Should feel fearless in the country. That kind of tribute to be made for the Nobel Prize, not just inviting me or talking to me or I'm inviting them on some issues. We have to prioritize our children, our polity, economy and society. That is still lacking. And I tell you that many people and journalists have started asking this question that look, you are the only Nobel Laureate in the history of Nobel Prize, Peace Prize who worked on this issue, who has been fighting for child slavery and child trafficking for so many years. The first time this prize has been conferred to this cause, just through me, but for this cause. I feel this is a moral responsibility as a nation to put an end to this curse on our face, It's a moral issue but it's a moral issue for me because that's why, when I got the Nobel Peace Prize, I did not keep it with me because it will remain just my thing. So I have given it to the nation, given it to the President of India and I am thankful to him that he has accepted it. So the only Nobel medal which existed in India, is not with me but with the nation, which I have given it to the Honourable President.
NDTV: And the nation hasn't signed the ILO Convention on Child Labour.
Kailash Satyarthi: Nation has not signed any of these two important conventions. Conventions on the worst form of child labour, which people attribute to some of my efforts because we ideated this. I launched the worldwide campaign, which went across 103 countries, six-month long march, which included millions of people all across the world. And that was my demand, which has resulted into formation of new ILO Conventions on worst forms of child labour. And I met the earlier Prime Ministers also, the Labour Ministers during that time. People started listening to my call, the world is responding. 180 countries have ratified the Conventions on worst forms of child labour, India has not yet done. And ILO and others always say that it is a contribution from an Indian, who brought this idea and worked hard for that and mobilized the political support, globally. So that has been there for quite sometime, since 1989. In '89, the Convention was adopted and India was a signatory to it but it has not yet ratified and now India is sitting with whom? Cook Islands. We are in the club of Cook Islands with a 10,000 population. Many people in India have not even heard the name of Marshall Islands or Papua, which has 20,000 or so population. 10,000, 20,000 populations, small islands, they have not yet ratified the Convention. India is sitting with that club. It's, it's really disappointing for someone who has been working for so many years and has been able to mobilize the worldwide political support for this issue. In my own country I'm urging my people, I'm urging my Parliamentarians and parties that please do something for the children, how can you continue with that? And that is not only the moral issue that I've said. It's also an economic issue. We are going to make Digital India. If a chaiwaala, of course we are so proud that a chaiwaala has become the Prime Minister. It's a great accomplishment for any Indian. But how many chaiwaalas are going to help India become Digital India or Skill India, if they are not given full-time, good quality education? And the education does not mean just going to school. Education now, the global commitment is quality education, inclusive education and equitable education. That is our commitment to the world.
NDTV: So you are saying perhaps you would like to ask the Parliament to shift its focus from who said what, to shift the focus on children. But also if this Bill is not brought, it could actually set back the course.
Kailash Satyarthi: I would never agree on this present form of the Bill. That should not be passed in the Parliament and because this is regressive and I would never allow it to be passed under the petty arguments or reality arguments, harsh reality of the society. How long will you be talking about the harsh reality and the sanskars in this country? Go deeper, go little bit back and see that even we are calling for Make In India, a massive priority and focus of the government. Great. But we are leaving a serious vulnerability if we allow these forms of child labour to continue. If so many children will be working in hazardous occupations, with some excuses, or so many children would be working with so-called families at the age of 6 or 7 or 8-9 in age, it would be a serious vulnerability for those who are investing in India because they are bound to adhere with the International treaties and norms. India has not yet ratified the Convention on the worst forms of child labour, neither the Convention on minimum age. That is an OE Convention, which has been ratified by 163 countries. So the worst forms of child labour have been ratified by 180 countries, these countries or investors will also feel vulnerable if the children are exposed as child labours or workers in those supply chains. They would be very careful about it. If we had good laws and our laws are properly implemented, then we would be standing on much more ground.