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Global March's Achievements

The chanting by Lily, Bishnu, Gwen, Jessica, Sultana, Govind, Candida and many other children during the Global March still echoes in my mind. It is immortal. It is never-ending. Strong voices full of determination and aspiration demanding 'we want books', 'we want toys', 'no more child exploitation', 'go go Global March', 'stop, stop child labour' reverberated in the air. The rights and demands of the children are yet to be fully translated into action and put an end to child labour thereby ensuring quality education and restoring the sacred childhood and freedom of each and every child.

Of late many people asked after the completion of five years on the Global March - what have you accomplished and what could be achieved further? It is hard to answer at one go. Our main aim was to establish child labour as a global issue and to build a worldwide movement against the menace. The physical march resulted in creating so much awareness and mobilisation among the people that it finally brought child labour on the political agenda of the world. This March showed the world that the victims of the most severe forms of child labour including bonded labour, prostitution and child soldiers have illustrated their leadership. These children, who had been considered weak and vulnerable, have demonstrated that they have enormous power and that nobody can stop their voices from demanding freedom and education.

In addition, the March gave birth to a civil society coalition of all of us in the world concerned with the child labour issue, involving several NGOs, other civil organisations, teachers unions, trade unions and religious groups amongst others. It is impressive, that so many different organisations come together on the local, national and international level to initiate a movement for quality education and against child labour.

We have not been running similar marches across the world but have been boosting our campaigns for the ratification and implementation of ILO Convention 182 on Worst Forms of Child Labour and for free, quality education for all. The most concrete achievement was the unanimous adoption of ILO Convention 182 and its ratification by 136 countries so far. This convention is the fastest ratified convention in the history, and much of its credit goes to the constant involvement of civil society in a number of countries to keep the issue of child labour as one of the top agendas of the national governments'. We cannot quantify the number of children benefiting, but through all this, a lot has been achieved very quickly. We hope that our partners, donors, supporters and the ILO are not just satisfied by the large number of ratifications of ILO Convention 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labour. The countries themselves should not be satisfied with the ratification, they should be keen on implementation and enforcement as well.

Proper implementation can only be achieved through the participation of civil society organisations, not only through legal instruments and legal obligations, which have normally been addressed in a bureaucratic manner alone. Civil society organisations should get involved with the design of national action plans for implementation. Another important aspect is to ensure the implementation through proper working mechanisms. The inspectoral bodies in many countries are very weak. They don't have enough manpower, they are not well enough trained, and some are even corrupt or dishonest. So,it remains to be seen as to who is going to check and inspect whether child labour exists and assess ways of eliminating it.

An important issue in the last five years was the sports industry, with many children being involved, particularly in the stitching of footballs. We played a significant role, not only in exposing the plight of those children, but also in exposing the authorities like FIFA and to fulfill their obligations. The Campaign was successful in bringing forth changes in the entire scenario. Petitions were signed, a network of concerned organisations was consolidated, dialogues with international organisations such as UNICEF and FIFA were activated, investigations were made in Pakistan and India, many pledges were taken, and people from around the world acted in solidarity. Over 55 million supporters showed solidarity with child labourers and adult workers who are exploited in the sporting goods production. The European Parliament officially passed a resolution on 12 June 2002 calling to eradicate child labour in the production of sports equipment. The Global March led an independent investigation in Pakistan, outside of Sialkot, on the situation of existing child labour and exposed some terrifying facts like some children, as young as 8 years old being found stitching footballs, outside of the monitoring system in Sialkot.

The Global March was also active in campaigns focussing on the situation of child labourers in the carpet industry as well as the prevalent child slavery in western Africa, where many people work in the cocoa production. We have presented a detailed proposal for the reform of the chocolate/cocoa industry at a recent board meeting of the International Cocoa Foundation (ICF). We continued to push for the adoption of independent local civil society rehabilitation of child labourers, social education and monitoring of compliance by cocoa farmers of industry commitments to end the use of child and slave labour. We also pushed for the industry to recognise that the problem of child labour is prevalent wherever cocoa is farmed-whether in West Africa (where admittedly the worst practices exist), South-East Asia or Latin America and to commission national or regional studies into the extent of the problem.

The exploitation of children particularly girls as domestic child labour, the invisible form of slavery, has been identified by Global March as one of its thematic campaigns. The Global March Campaign Against Domestic Child Labour was designed with both an international and a local outlook. Therefore, as a campaign, it managed to involve countries from around the world, and at the same time remain sensitive to local cultural, social and economic realities. While investigating the use of children as domestic servants in different areas, stickers were pasted on the door whenever a child was not found working. In South Asia, Anglophone and Francophone Africa, a number of volunteers and former domestic child labourers themselves went door-to-door to bring a change in the values of each individual, family and community. In India the campaign was hugely successful. The 93rd Amendment Bill was passed unanimously in the Indian Parliament in 2002 making the Right to Education a Fundamental Right for all children between 6-14 years old. The campaign was also strong in Nepal where a door-to-door survey in Kathmandu Valley was conducted to find the number of domestic servants in the region.

...Knowledge is the key to justice and peace for future. You can just close one window, you can carry out some activities, you can pass on some laws, you can ratify and announce their implementation, but this all has to be achieved in a larger context - the global economic and political situation..."

Through our concerted efforts, we have brought about a change in the mind-set of people and organisations, including the government at the top level. For example the UNGASS (UN General Assembly Special Session on Children) document was really very conservative earlier, rather negative on child labour. The Global March played a vital role in bringing about a big policy change in this document through lobbying and sustained pressure. On the education field, the Global March came together with key organisations such as Oxfam International, ActionAid, and Education International to form a broader platform in ensuring that the governments live up to their promises with concrete changes in the lives of children and illiterate adults. Above that, it had been the strongest voice of civil society ever in favour of the basic right to education for all and thus we interact and intervene on the highest level with actors like UNESCO, industrial countries, the World Bank and many more. As part of this coalition of NGOs, GCE has helped influence plans to achieve one of the key UN Millennium Development Goals, namely, Education for All (EFA), which aims to achieve primary education around the world by 2015. We also compiled a status report of all the donors that provide funding for education for developing countries. Education is now on top of the agenda and that could only be realised through a civil society movement in which GCE played the most important role.

Another important step was the successful launch of our website which is now rated first in Google.com search engine and occupies the top position on Yahoo.com under the keywords of 'child labour', 'education and child labour', 'child servants', 'football child labour' and 'child labour news'. We also have been able to develop the world's first country-by-country report on the worst forms of child labour along with country wise information on gender gap statistics in education.

More so, we also realized the importance of strengthening the experience and perspective of the southern voice in the northern policy domain and that initiated the opening of International Center on Child Labor and Education (ICCLE), the Northern Advocacy Office in Washington DC. ICCLE is responsible for promoting the policies of the worldwide movement of the decision makers of the north. As such it is a true representative of the voice of the south against child labour and for education.

The rehabilitation of freed child labourers is equally essential, along with the rescue of the bonded children. There are good examples of proper rehabilitation programmes in the world. Many child labourers come from different circumstances and cannot join public education immediately. We have to bridge the gap from being a child labourer and a school kid, which can be only done by providing vocational and social training in designated rehabilitation centres.

Now, the biggest challenge before the Global March Movement is the Children's World Congress on Child Labour. We are facilitating to bring 500 child activists and school going children and former child labourers who were trapped in the worst forms of child labour, fighting for the rights of the children in the first ever Children's World Congress on Child Labour to be held in Italy, May 2004. The children will take the centre stage, speak for themselves, press for prompt solution, and fight for their rights. This will be the greatest achievement for us as such an event like this was never attempted before.

There is the other challenge as well - the knowledge apartheid. Unfortunately, today we see the fusion of three powers namely state, economy and knowledge being concentrated in the hands of few people, forming the power play. Moreover state, knowledge and market are concentrated on 15 percent of the world population. If the people in the poor countries are excluded from the benefits of globalisation, one should not think of a peaceful world. Knowledge is the key to justice and peace for future. You can just close one window, you can carry out some activities, you can pass on some laws, you can ratify and announce their implementation, but this all has to be achieved in a larger context-the global economic and political situation.

Till date, we have not stopped our march. We are marching! Five years after the physical march we haven't stopped our march against child slavery and exploitation. However, the mode and the technique of the March has changed, and the movement is getting stronger and stronger.

Kailash Satyarthi... the seeker of truth
Copyright © 2014 Kailash Satryarthi