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Children Set Another Milestone!

The Global March is once again overwhelmed with the monumental success of the Children's World Congress, Florence. Though we were all angry at the imposed absence of many of our young child participants from Africa and Asia, the strong vibrant and passionate voice of the children who participated as well as the committed response from the adults lifted our spirits and hopes and brought forth unprecedented enthusiasm and encouragement towards a better future for the children the world over.

It's not often that history witnesses its making by children from all parts of the world including former slaves engaged in most hazardous occupations alongside those children who study in good schools and are aware and committed in their fight against child labour. They could very well empathise and understand the difficulties of exploitation, miseries and agonies of child labourers.

It would have been a memorable and learning experience for those children too who were unable to participate in the Congress, witness and feel the depth of wisdom, strength, courage, moral and deep understanding and analysis of the issues and unmatched global concern shown by the child participants."

These children were strongly supported in their endeavour by the world leaders including the ministers from rich and poor countries, the senior officials of UN agencies and the key functionaries of international trade union movements and civil society organisations in Florence from 10-13 May. The four days of the Congress culminated in a massive march through the streets of Florence from Piazza della Signoria to Piazza Santissima Annunziata. Thousands of adults and children took part in the march and were carrying banners and colourful posters for ending child labour and providing education to all. The atmosphere was resplendent and enlivened with chanting of slogans and rhythmic beats of drums.

The most important and innovative moment of the Congress was the accountability session. It was actually beyond everyone's expectations. The children had no bias, prejudice, shyness, fear or hesitation in raising all their questions to the world leaders, which an adult would fail to do with the same amount of honesty and clarity. Each and every detail was minutely discussed. Again, the children's questions showed that they have a very clear understanding of international politics and that they can bring new perspectives in the struggle against child labour. They also stressed their own commitment in creating a world free of child labour. They said, “ We must work at the national level and establish a Children's Parliament, in every country, that is not just a symbol but a source of power for children to change the situations that we think are wrong. This Parliament would elect a representative to the country's government.”

They did not leave any topic unturned, be it politics, priorities in spending, war and military expenses in connivance with law breakers, reasons for poverty, at par with any acclaimed academician or scholar. This is indeed remarkable because it indicates the birth of a new culture of holding the authority accountable for the limitations and inability to fulfill the promises to the victims.

It would have been a memorable and learning experience for those children too who were unable to participate in the Congress, witness and feel the depth of wisdom, strength, courage, moral and deep understanding and analysis of the issues and unmatched global concern shown by the child participants. Be it Ratana from Cambodia who used to work in the fishing industry, Fatima from Nicaragua, the most loved and popular child participant of the Congress, the bright Emily from US who talked about the differences in gender and the difficulties that girls face in their work and the simple and expressive Shams from Iran – all were so forthright and impressive in their expression of views. It is simply impossible to pen down the simplicity, the tremendous moral strength and clarity of all these youngsters. Finally, after three days of children's workshops that identified crucial issues of child labour, as well as dialogues with adult world leaders during the session on accountability, child delegates presented their final declaration on Child Labour at Palazzo Vecchio in Florence.

These children criticised governments for hiding and ignoring the issue of child exploitation, that damage the physical and mental wellbeing of a child, and demanded an immediate end to the scourge of child labour. Governments should criminalise child labour, but should never criminalise children. Children also accused governments for not having met their own promises with real commitment or resources and requested that they, along with governmental bodies at international and regional levels, protect children's rights and “take the needs of children as a priority.” Each one of them brought along with them an ocean of knowledge substantiated with the challenge to the whole world and call for urgency to end exploitation of 246 million child labourers worldwide.

I would like to congratulate all those who participated and supported the World Congress, most importantly our host Mani Tese and the Italian trade unions CGIL, CISL and UIL. The Global March International Council has promised all those children who were unable to take part in the World Congress and their national coordinators, to organise a follow-up Congress in Asia or Africa later this year. In their declaration the children made clear, “At the next Congress, we would like to see them participate because their voice is their vision and the world must hear it.”

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