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Summary of speech by Kailash Satyarthi, Kids Rights conference on MDGs

Johannesburg, July 9th 2010

It is a welcome opportunity to address such a distinguished gathering.

I would congratulate Kids Rights for this initiative and thank the co-hosts of this conference those who are making an important effort to ensure that the voice of millions of vulnerable children around world is heard at a time when it is needed most. I would specially applaud, the leadership and efforts of Marc Dullaert and his team for their vision and courage to organise this event when the football fever is on the top of everything.

The timing of this conference is very important for three reasons. One, Africa is flooded with unprecedented pride and self-confidence, as holding the most successful FIFA world cup has proved their excellence. This positive energy and momentum has to be sustained and transformed into long lasting social change in favour of the poor. Africa is a mirror of human civilisation and development. If children, women and man of this continent remain deprived of their rights and basic needs, it’s a proof that something is seriously going wrong in the world polity, economy and even morality. Nothing could be better than highlighting inevitability of child rights for the success of MDGs.
Secondly, Conference is taking place at a watershed moment in human development just before the forthcoming MDG Review Conference in September, and thirdly, also at the time of severe global economic crisis.

Crisis affects countries in different ways. In industrialised world, countries are entering phase of major cutbacks in public sector spending. In developing countries, situation is much worse, not only because same cutbacks will be implemented, but also export markets will be hit affecting employment and socio-economic development. In addition, developments aid budgets of industrialised nations being reduced. Eventually poor children in developing countries suffer most.

When the world leaders will meet in MDG summit must not ignore the fact that the present polity and development have utterly failed to millions of world’s children. Over 200 million of them are toiling as child labourers and more than 70 million are denied education. Children are sold and bought like animals or even in lesser prices. They are trapped into slavery, working in farms and factories, used for prostitution and pornography, given guns instead of toys and books in their tiny hands. Now the economic crisis should not become another reason for their exploitation and poverty.

Last month I along with my colleagues and labour inspectors in New Delhi rescued 38 child-bonded labourers in a secret raid. They were trafficked from hundreds of miles to work in live in subhuman conditions in small garment embroidery workshops run in slums.10 year old Irfan was the youngest. He has been beaten when he cried for his mother. He was brought to Mukti Ashram, a transit rehabilitation centre run my Indian organisation Bachpan Bachao Andolan after his rescue. It took Irfan couple of days to become normal and confident. The boy is bright. He had several questions but the three were extremely vital, which I would like to share with you. He asked, everyone says you have to work because you are poor. ‘Is it my fault and whether I created poverty? He further says, I watched on my master’s Television, leaders preaching that all children should be in school. How could I be in school and in a factory at the same time? And his third question was that why I am forced to work when my father is not given job?

Clearly children born in poor families and countries are not responsible for their poverty but are victims. We further victimise them by making them child labourers. Also we must remember the relationship between adult unemployment and child labour. Over 200 million children are engaged in full time job worldwide, when almost equal number of adults is jobless. I will also give you more specific example of India, where approximately 55 million children work as child labourers, according to non-governmental statistics, leaving 60 million adults unemployed. These adults are largely the parents of the very child labourers.
Child labour is part of triangular development paradigm linking it with poverty and lack of access to education. Child labour is both cause and consequence of poverty and social exclusion. Similarly elimination of child labour and access to education are like two sides of one coin. One cannot be achieved without the other.

Also gender dimension to child labour in view of discriminatory practices deprives many girls of appropriate education and add to their burdens in life through excessive household chores. Education of girls as future mothers also plays crucial role in reducing child mortality and improving maternal health as it does in favouring schooling next generation of children instead of sending them to work.

Combating HIV/AIDS is particularly important in context of sub-Saharan Africa as AIDS orphans are among children most at risk of exploitation as they seek to survive or act as heads of family households. In addition, those children exploited in commercial sex trade, particularly girls, are at significant risk of contracting HIV/AIDS virus.

Child labour also has a link with environmental conditions. Lack of water and proper sanitation facilities in schools are major factors contributing to school dropout or non-enrolment. Collecting water is also major daily activity of many children, including in South Africa, affecting their access to education or academic performance. Improving living conditions in slums also plays significant role, as does improving agricultural technology in impoverished rural areas to prevent children being used as source of cheap and docile labour.

MDG on global partnership for development includes promotion of decent work for youth, which is vital in global strategy to eliminate and prevent child labour.

Given this strong link between incidence of child labour and MDGs, it is imperative that steps are taken urgently to ensure that efforts to achieve MDGs by 2015 also include child labour as a key objective. Elimination and prevention of child labour is 9th MDG, the hidden MDG.

In recent Global Report on Child Labour, ILO tells us that numbers of working children continue to fall, but rate is slowing dramatically and is offset by increase in sub-Saharan Africa. Statistics based on figures gathered prior to economic crash. Likely scenario today is that child labour is increasing once again in many parts of world.

My organisation, Global March against Child Labour was part of consultative group of governments, employers, trade unions and civil society that developed Roadmap for Achieving the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour by 2016 unanimously adopted by Global Conference on Child Labour in The Hague in May this year.

This roadmap highlights urgency in accelerating action to achieve this vital goal and outlines key steps that need to be taken by all partners to ensure that this happens.

Global March and its members worldwide – trade unions, teachers’ and civil society organisations – are committed to supporting implementation of roadmap and have identified four key areas of action over the coming 6 years;

1. Reinforcing policies and programmes in agriculture where most child labour is found;
2. Ensuring that hardest-to-reach children are not left behind in Education For All effort;
3. Ensuring that ILO’s tripartite partners adopt a new convention on domestic work in 2011; and
4. Working with employers, workers and their organisations and labour inspectorates to ensure improved and expanded corporate social responsibility policies and programmes.

We must envision and work for the child centric development and for a child friendly world. In India and Nepal about 300 villages have been transformed as child friendly villages by my organisation with the support of Kids Rights and others. These are the child labour free villages where all children are in school; they formed their children’s village assembly and successfully influence the village development budget in favour of children.

How much longer will we continue to fail our children, fail to keep promises of 2015 and 2016? We know we are not on track to achieve MDGs and elimination of worst forms of child labour. We know that countries have failed to make good on their financial commitments to achieve these vital development goals.
We can bring about change through commitment and motivation of all stakeholders, especially governments and donors. Through dialogue and consensus, can make progress in achieving MDGs and especially focused on the marginalised and hard to reach categories.

One UN approach seeks to address need for coherence in policies, programmes and financing within UN family. This coherence must be replicated in implementation of MDGs if they are to contribute consistently and effectively to the elimination and prevention of child labour and protection and promotion of children’s rights.

In conclusion I call for a few things; firstly, a genuine sense of urgency to protect our children, an honest and adequate political will, thirdly, increased and immediate finance through the fair share by donors and at least 6 % of GDP allocation for education by developing countries, policy coherence in UN system as well as coordination and cooperation among UN agencies; strengthening multi-stake holders partnership at all levels and finally but perhaps most importantly, the leadership by the governments, private sector and civil society.

World’s children cannot wait any longer. While international community debates and issues recommendations, statements and fine speeches, world’s children, marginalised, socially excluded, poor and vulnerable continue to suffer. Confidence and trust are being lost and is too much at stake not to take urgent and accelerated action now.

Kailash Satyarthi... the seeker of truth
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