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Children are the present…their voice is the future

Once again, the children have proved that they are the leaders of today. They have all the courage and spirit to question those in power, and they have enough wisdom and vision to provide solution to many of the problems which adult think are complicated. More importantly, these children have emerged as icons of hope, rising from the most wretched conditions- former child slaves, victims of trafficking; physically, mentally and sexually exploited; socially excluded and oppressed. These children joined hands with a few committed youth leaders in the Second Children’s World Congress on Child Labour and Education organised by Global March Against Child Labour and hosted by Bachpan Bachao Andolan from 4-8th September 2005 in New Delhi

“Why are the children studying in Government schools deprived of quality education? There is a facility of mid day meal in most of the Government schools, then why it is not taken seriously? What is done for those children who are forced to beg on streets and in many cases they are deprived of their hands, legs or even eyes to get people to sympathise? What are the laws against children being used as camel jockeys? Why is it that ILO does not concentrate on smaller countries like Ivory Coast?

We promise to continue to take action to eliminate child labour and make a better world for children. Now we ask all of you to join us, because only together can we truly achieve freedom for all. In this friendship, we will create a healthy and peaceful world for all…......…. We are the present, our voice is the future."

The questions kept pouring in and the adults with power, sitting on the podium, felt nervous about it. It is very difficult to face honesty; innocence and moral strength of a child, whose voice is still sacred and the words are straight, untouched by adult styled diplomacy. Thus, the diplomatic answers do not seem very satisfactory. The child delegates posed dozens of such question during the Accountability Session. Usually the people in power are invited “to bless and preach” children in schools and institutions. Children are showered with most beautiful phrases and words, sayings and poems, repeating the preciousness of childhood and the dignity of children. And, the leaders do not forget to narrate how good they have been with children and what “should” be done for their betterment.

Contrary to this, the accountability session tried to make the adults in position accountable to the children. It is not easy or convenient to defend the gap between words and deeds; promises and actions. The accountability session seeks to create a platform and a fearless opportunity for the victims, where the victims and authorities are brought face- to- face and the authorities are made accountable.

None present can ever forget the height of enthusiasm and hope generated in Success Stories session. It was a surprise for many in the audience when a 15-year-old former domestic servant Santosh Kumari, born and brought up in an urban slum in Jaipur, India, narrated her tale with a great sense of pride. She and her fellow children helped in the withdrawal of about 500 girls and boys from exploitative and hazardous work and enrolled them in schools. This was no mean achievement considering her tender years.

There is no comparison for the honesty and determination found in dozens of other children from 30 countries including Asia, Africa, Latin America, Europe, Middle East and North America. The congress was a combination of fun and intense work. . Children held their head high when they sat on the back of an elephant or a camel during the joyful evenings and made adults nervous through the heavy bombardment of questions. One could see the perfect rhythm in their dancing and singing after the sessions and the same while articulating their aspirations and demands and while writing their declaration.

Once again these children have proved how to break the geo-political boundaries and the language barriers. The Pakistani girls were crying while listening to Indian child delegates in a workshop, which was possible, as they understand each other’s language, but what would you say to an Ethiopian girl who broke down listening to a Cambodian. What a perfect communication! It was not the language of words but the language of shared agonies, miseries, anger, hopes, dreams and future commitments. This was the true language of human love and compassion. They have proven once again that children have a lot to teach us.

The jam-packed auditorium applauded the collective wisdom of the child delegates shown in the historic Delhi Declaration. Child delegates from around the world, mostly former child labourers, have agreed on a declaration placing key demands on their governments and the international community and placing peace, elimination of child labour, universal education and poverty elimination and decent work for adults as the key interlinking priorities. After four days of discussions on the urgent need to eliminate child labour and provide universal education; and after exchanging their own experience of exploitation, abuse and denial of education, the children, drew the following key conclusions:

“Peace is the most basic human right. We have to ask ourselves why everyone is not able to have something so fundamental.” While living in peace, every child has not only a better chance of getting their rights, but also has a stronger potential to improve the world for their generations and those to come. The Delhi Congress echoed this sentiment, saying that terrorism and conflict is one of the greatest hindrances to a child’s success.

Child labour exists in all continents and some 180 million toil in its worst forms: bonded labour, sexual exploitation, drug trafficking, armed conflict and a wide range of work which injures their mental and physical health. Effective action, especially against trafficking, is urgently required. Most child labourers are denied access to education. Governments must provide compulsory, quality, formal and full time education, free of cost for all children, regardless of gender, race, religion, caste, ethnic or national origin or citizenship, economic status, language or disability. Children’s participation at all levels must be ensured. The declaration concludes with the following inspiring words:

“We promise to continue to take action to eliminate child labour and make a better world for children. Now we ask all of you to join us, because only together can we truly achieve freedom for all. In this friendship, we will create a healthy and peaceful world for all…….We are the present, our voice is the future”

The Congress was not a singular event but one of the many activities in the movement against child labour and in pursuance of education for all. As an immediate follow up to the Congress, a group of three children, David and Rebecca from Peru and Suman from India joined a panel discussion with the Dutch Executive Director of the World Bank and the former Minister of Social Affairs of Netherlands, Mr. Ad Melkert; former Education Minister of Brazil, Senator Cristovam Buarque; veteran human rights activist Ms. Kerry Kennedy Cuomo and representatives from ILO, ICFTU, G-CAP, Child Labour Coalition, etc. at New York. This side event was organised by the Global March Against Child Labour (GMACL), Global Campaign for Education (GCE) and International Center on Child Labor and Education (ICCLE) to highlight the importance of inter-linkages between child labour, education and Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The panel called upon the UN and the international community to recognise the importance of child labour elimination and education for all children as a pre-requisite for the achievement of the MDGs for the betterment of human kind. Rebecca, David and Suman also waved off balloons in front of the UN building along with other children and adults including UN’s first lady Ms. Nene Annan, highlighting the demand for free and quality education for all. They were the representatives of solidarity on behalf of 3.5 million children who participated in ‘Global Action Week on Education’ in making and sending 5 million paper buddies under the slogan ‘Send My Friend to School’ before the G8 Summit in Gleneagles this July.

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