Satyarthi does not believe in combating child labor through an elite, bureaucratic, academic, intellectual or narrow project-based approach. He felt that the people who discuss and decide on the issue are culturally, spiritually and physically far away from the victims. They indulge in bringing a few showpieces or case studies for research and intellectual exercises that usually have a very limited impact. The alternate is to go to the masses who are exploited and compelled to send their children to a life of endless exploitation. Satyarthi promoted the approach of walks and marches which had been used by saints and monks in ancient times for mutual learning and spreading of human values.
The Yatras (marches) organized by him brought about a miracle in inspiring and mobilizing the masses in remote villages, cities and towns, bringing media attention and generating political debate on the issue of child labor.
- Bihar to Delhi March traveled 2000 kms from the heart of the carpet industry employing child labor in Nagar Utari (Bihar) to Delhi in 1992
- Bharat Yatra Against Child Labor covered over 5000 kms from Kanyakumari to Delhi in 1994
- South Asian Child Workers' Freedom March traveled 1500 kms from Calcutta to Kathmandu in 1996
- Global March Against Child Labour across the world in 103 countries traveled over 80,000 kms in 1998
- Shiksha Yatra was a nationwide march on education covering 15,000 kms across the length and breadth of the country in 2001
- South Asian March Against Child Trafficking, a march to stop trafficking for forced labour in Indo-Nepal-Bangladesh border covering 5,000 km in 2007
- Dozens of other national and international marches were also organized successfully
The most significant component in these marches was that the child laborers, freed bonded children and their parents were among the key participants and leaders. This gave an enormous value to the events. Some 50-200 marchers participated as core marchers who are joined by hundreds and thousands of local marchers en route everyday. The local organizers convene rallies, meetings, seminars, musical and cultural events at 4 or 5 points each day. This becomes a combination of fun, learning, teaching and sharing.
Satyarthi, in the course of his crusade realized that the battle for child labor eradication cannot be fought by the strength of NGOs alone. Involvement of influential segments of society like religious leaders, politicians, trade unions, lawyers and other intellectual groups is a must. Keeping this in view, he initiated dialogues and meetings with concerned individuals and groups and achieved success in forming the inter-religious forum on child servitude, trade union forum on child servitude, parliamentary forum on education, lawyers forum and so on. All these outfits are rendering enormous support to the campaigns of SACCS and BBA. For example, the Parliamentary Forum helps in raising the child labor and education problems in Parliament and pressurizes the government to initiate measures. The lawyers offer legal aid and other facilities to freed children and help rehabilitate them. Trade unions also play a very important role to spread the message that removal of child labor directly reduces unemployment among adults. The trade unions also participate in demonstrations and rallies to reinforce the movement.
His numerous campaigns with innovative strategies against child labor in stone quarries, brick kilns, carpet industry, fire crackers industry, glass bangles industry, zari (embroidery) industry, sporting goods, circus industry, cocoa plantations, domestic work, and child trafficking, etc. have lead the transformation of the issue of child labor to a worldwide mass movement.
Convention of the World Conference on Education
He and his team convened the first international-level civil society conference 'World Congress on Education' in 2001 to build and strengthen the Global Campaign for Education. The Congress was a success in laying a strong foundation for civil society efforts to promote education.
| AS AN INITIATOR
A chilly night on a stone bench: conceptual birth of the first child labor free label
It was in the winter of 1989, when Satyarthi and his associates had rescued 10 child slaves from the carpet looms of Mirzapur, the notorious carpet belt of Uttar Pradesh state. The children were then escorted back by him to their native village in neighboring Bihar state, about 300 km away from Mirzapur. While happily awaiting at the Mirzapur railway station for his late night return train to Delhi, he got the shock of his life. A batch of 50 children were brought out with two middlemen to take them to carpet looms. Instead of catching the train, he tried to stop the middlemen from taking away the children. Suddenly, the police appeared on the scene and took the side of the middlemen. Satyarthi was unofficially detained at the police post of the railway platform for alleged disruption of the peace. Sitting on the chilling stone bench on the cold winter night, his mind rattled and came to the conclusion that mere rescue operations are meaningless unless pressure is exerted by the consumers which will be an economic threat for the child employers. It was necessary because of the unholy nexus between the industry and the law enforcing agencies.
The consumer awareness campaign initiated by Satyarthi in Europe posed a general threat of the boycott of carpets, whereas the concept was only to discourage buying of carpets made by child slaves and simultaneously promote goods produced without child labor. Hence, Satyarthi soon embarked on a labeling system which would monitor, certify and affix labels on carpets free from child labor. His relentless two-year exercise, dialogue with NGOs, trade and export promotion professionals, Indo-German Export Promotion (IGEP) Council, UNICEF and a socially concerned segment of the carpet industry, enabled him to establish an independent, non-commercial, professional mechanism to monitor and label carpets. Thus Rugmark came into being in 1994. Since then, 4.3 million rugmark labeled carpets have been sold. His pro-active efforts to spread the labeling system have ensured rugmark establishments in Germany, USA, UK, Nepal and Pakistan as well.
Rugmark in now universally recognized as the first social labeling mechanism on the issue of child labor and one of the pioneers of corporate social responsibility and ethical trade campaign in the world.
Tirupur, an industrial town in South India, is the hub of garment and hosiery manufacturing units. It also has about 30,000 children in the labor force. The initiative of Satyarthi to bring the industry and child rights NGOs on a negotiating platform to replace child labor with adults resulted in the formation of a Committee on Child Labor. Efforts are being made to establish a monitoring and labeling system 'Knitmark' for garments produced without child labor.
Many children in India, Pakistan and other countries who stitch football and make other sporting goods with their tiny hands never find a chance to play with them. This shameless situation provoked Satyarthi to initiate the Fairplay Campaign in India in the mid-90s that has helped in exposing the plight of children as well as pressurizing the industry and authorities to find a solution. About a year before the FIFA World Cup 2002, he and his Global March team spearheaded a very powerful FIFA World Cup Campaign asking FIFA to fulfill its Code of Conduct which includes the elimination of child labor and fair wages for adult workers.FIFA World Cup CampaignThe FIFA World Cup Campaign 2002 by Global March was a year long effort to raise awareness and to take steps for the elimination of child labor through highlighting cases of child labor in the sporting goods industry, especially football stitching. The campaign focused on getting FIFA and the manufacturers to implement their Code of Labor Practices and make the FIFA World Cup 2002 free of child labor. It also demanded fair wages for the adult workers. The campaign was successful in mobilizing support from football players, football fans, trade unions, NGOs, fair trade organizations, and concerned children and adults from across the world.The World Cup came to an end in June 2002 but a follow-up plan is underway which most importantly will see the handing over to FIFA of petitions collected during the year-long campaign. It will also reopen the dialogue with major stakeholders.
International Cocoa Initiative
Satyarthi is one of the key architects of the ICI which has been created with the aim to eliminate forced and child labour in the growing and processing of cocoa beans and its derivatives including chocolates. ICI has been pressurizing the chocolate industry to guarantee non-employment of children, motivating parents to send their children to schools and evolving procedures and mechanisms for the rehabilitation and repatriation of children.
He conceptualized the principle of child participation with the belief that victims themselves have take led against exploitations they have faced. Thousands of children's rescued by satyarthi have now actively taken up the cause of advocating for themselves and other children. These children and youth have been a driving force in the formation and growth of BBA, saccs and global march. Much before the international recognition of the concept of child participation, satyarthi was translating the principle in letter, spirit and action. He organised the two children's world congresses on child labor in florence, italy (2004) and new delhi, india (2005) in which democratically elected former child laborers from across the globe joined hands, pledged and voiced their opinions in front of world leaders, and came out with a 'children's declaration' to put an end to the menace of child labor and ensure education for all.
For sustainable development Satyarthi established the 'triangular paradigm' exploring the relationships between child labor elimination, education for all and poverty alleviation. He has systematically engaged and sustained to draw attention of the international community including the finance, labor and education ministries of strategic countries, UN agencies, bilateral, multilateral and donor agencies about the need for convergent policies, planning and action on this triangular paradigm. He has proposed and led the formation of a global task force on child labor and education of the aforesaid international stakeholders, as an institutional mechanism to build coherence and for the realization of millennium development goals (MDG), dakar framework of action and international conventions on child labor.
| AS AN ORGANISER
Bachpan Bachao Andolan (Save the Childhood Movement) - 1980
Founded by in 1980 by Kailash Satyarthi, Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA) symbolizes the struggle against child labor and child servitude. BBA started its work in the stone quarries of north India against bondage, slavery and child labor, when child labor was a non-issue. No political, legal or civil society initiative existed against it. The common perception was that children were working due to poverty and people saw nothing unusual about it, rather considering it as a necessary evil for economic development. BBA's original idea was daring and dangerous. BBA's activists led by satyarthi decided to mount raids on factories - factories frequently manned by armed guards - where children and often entire families were held captive as bonded workers.
One of the outstanding achievements of BBA as a volunteer based organization, besides freeing thousands of bonded children, has been to enroll more than 80,000 individuals from all walks of life as members of the movement.
Satyarthi is the Founder Chairperson of BBA which has carved a niche for itself in combating child labor through varied programs at the central, state, district and block levels. The movement has picked up tremendous pace and the involvement of the masses will continue yielding fruitful results in the days to come.
Stone Quarry Workers Union - 1980
During 1980's, quarry workers in Haryana, Rajasthan etc. were among the most exploited people of the country, being unorganized and unaware of their rights. Satyarthi brought a ray of hope and aspiration in their life by teaching them to unionize. The unorganized quarry workers of Faridabad (Haryana state) and Ramganjmandi (Rajasthan state) along with their children were leading a life worse than animals, as the employers were treating them as complete slaves. Despite threats to Satyarthi's life, he arranged meetings and regular contact programs to awaken their lost pride. He taught them to unite and fight for their rights, as a result of which the Stone Quarry Workers Union was formed, and is today a force to be reckoned with. They also have learnt to attain their rights with the help of Courts of Law. The net result was the elimination of child labor in those areas.
Brick-Kiln Workers Union - 1981
Like the quarry workers, brick-kiln workers in the states of Haryana, western Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan are the most backward and exploited segment of society. Their destiny was completely in the hands of the employers. Most of them were bonded laborers. The sexual abuse of women workers was a common feature. Satyarthi showed them the necessity of organizing and raising their voice against exploitation and injustice. His frequent interactions with them resulted in the formation of Brick-Kiln Workers Union in 1981.
Both of these Unions were among the very first initiative of unions of migrant unorganized dalit (socially oppressed) workers.
South Asian Coalition on Child Servitude (SACCS) - 1989
During his crusade against slavery, he found children to be the most affected victims as they are physically, mentally and emotionally vulnerable and need immediate attention. He always believed that childhood is today and today only - tomorrow is too far. He felt that the situation of working children was essentially the same throughout the South Asian nations. This concept motivated him to initiate and form a network of organizations and groups which could work directly or indirectly to wipe out child exploitation from the region and provide children with meaningful education.
With this objective in mind, he traveled throughout South Asia and motivated individuals and organizations to launch battles against child slavery in their countries. It happened in 1987 when he convinced and motivated the 'Bhatta Mazdoor Mahaz' (Brick-Kiln Workers Front) led by Mr. Ehsan Ullah Khan in Pakistan, to form an organization against the bonded labor system and child servitude which hitherto remained unnoticed and neglected by all sections of society in the country. His efforts breathed success when the Supreme Court of Pakistan delivered a historic judgement on bonded labor on the lines of the judgement awarded by the Supreme Court of India, based on several petitions which Satyarthi had been able to pass on to his partners across the border. Subsequently, the Bonded Labor Liberation Front of Pakistan was formed in 1988 which later became the nodal partner of SACCS.
Satyarthi, in association with Anti-Slavery International (London), convened the first South Asian Seminar on Child Servitude in New Delhi, which was attended by several NGOs, human rights organizations, trade unions etc. from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. The meeting culminated in the formation of the South Asian Coalition on Child Servitude (SACCS) which now is a network of more than 750 NGOs, teachers unions, trade unions, and human rights organizations.
Global March Against Child Labor - 1998
Satyarthi always believed that it would only be through the collective participation of the whole community that success in ending child labor could be achieved. His dreams have come true with the conception of a worldwide physical march of children and social activists, the 'Global March Against Child Labor', which now is an international network of more than 2000 international and national NGOs and trade unions in over 140 countries. The purpose of this huge movement is to raise awareness about the worldwide nature of child labor, and to call on all national governments to adopt and enforce laws for the total elimination of child labor. In almost all the countries, the march was well received by national leaders and Heads of State. The Presidents and Prime Ministers of Turkey, Spain, France, Ireland, Belgium, Germany, Norway, Switzerland, Chile, Ecuador and Panama called on the core marchers. The Global March also received warm messages of support from Presidents Nelson Mandela, Bill Clinton, Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister Tony Blair.
As a result of the tireless efforts of this movement, the international community has finally agreed to tackle the menace of child servitude with determination and realism. The unanimous adoption of the Convention against the Worst Forms of Child Labor on 17 June, 1999 at the International Labor Conference in Geneva came as a moral victory for the Global March Against Child Labor, the largest social movement ever for exploited children.
Global Campaign for Education - 1999
Satyarthi played a pivotal role in the formation of Global Campaign for Education (GCE) which has emerged as the strongest civil society voice on the issue. It is a network of national, regional and international NGOs and teachers unions on the issue of education for all. Education International, Oxfam International, Action Aid Alliance, Save the Children Fund, World Vision, etc. are among the key members of GCE, besides the Global March Against Child Labor. It has been very active in lobbying governments and donor agencies to increase education spending, and mobilizing grassroots support for the acceptance of the importance of education in human and social development.