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Speech by Kailash Satyarthi at Mani Tese International Conference, Florence, Italy

Ideas Make The World Go Ahead

Words from Civil Society The Global March Experience

We are living in an era of digits and speed, which set the trends of the market. This determines our new socio-economic culture, value system, fiscal policies and political priorities. Dot-com seems to have become the driving force of human destiny. Electronic faces and voices are appearing in various forms with the human soul vanishing. Therefore, it is not only appropriate but also essential to search for new ideas of life from civil society initiatives to make the world go ahead.

The irony of this age is that it multiplies wealth and power, again, at the rate of market dot com but only for those who have it in abundance. The modern technical advancements hardly have any bearing on the lives of billions who are the victims of man-made disasters, unjust social orders, environmental degradation, gender bias, violence and exploitation, and particularly the children.

Millions of our children are bought and sold like animals for cheap labour, slavery and prostitution, deprived of their freedom and dignity, present and future. They have been the most marginalized and unheard lot, the last in the society, until the evolution of Global March Against Child Labour in 1997.

The march was not just an event but a logical culmination of a historical process sparked off by the South Asian Coalition on Child Servitude (SACCS), a non-governmental people’s initiative in India since 1980. It has rescued over 50,000 children from bondage. The need of a mass movement to strike at the root of the problem was felt over the period that resulted in successfully organising several marches in India and South Asia before expanding the idea on the international level in the form of the Global March.

The unanimous adoption of the new ILO convention on the worst forms of child labour in June 1999 can be counted as a major victory for the Global March movement which was instrumental in making the international community finally commit to tackling the menace of child servitude. It has been a great moral boost for this international movement -- the largest social mobilisation ever for exploited children, covering over 80,000 kilometers of surface distance and jointly organised by thousands of civil society institutions.

The March has generated unprecedented levels of mass awareness. It had mobilised millions of people of all the continents right from the lowest social strata up to the kings and queens, presidents and prime ministers. It has created a new culture of Coalitions among trade unions, NGOs, teachers, religious institutions and several other civil society organisations in over 140 countries.

The very presence of these child marchers and their collective vulnerability while travelling across the countries and speaking at the ILO’s 86th and 87th Conferences have proven to be an enormous moral pressure on the world's governments. The Global March has given a new voice to child labourers, which resulted in the formation of their organisations in many countries. Child labour has become recognised and accepted as a problem in many parts of the world where it had earlier been a non-issue. The March led to the creation of a new environment of relationship and formation of civil society institutions which could not play any role in the governance due to military juntas and armed conflict in some countries.

The adoption of the international law has been our major but not the ultimate goal. As a next step, we have been actively working towards the early ratification and implementation of the Convention by the member countries. By continually lobbying with governments, trade unions and employers through the active campaigns and advocacy missions to strategic countries, we strive to facilitate and expedite the ratification process with concrete ideas of implementation. Not just this, we have, over the period, been a focal point for information on child labour and acted as a common platform for the civil society organisations to exchange their ideas and opinions.

The mission of the Global March has been "to mobilise worldwide efforts to protect and promote the rights of children, especially their right to receive free, meaningful education..". It firmly believes that child labour and illiteracy are the two sides of the same coin one cannot be tackled without the other. With this view we, in association with ActionAid, Oxfam International and Education International, have recently embarked upon a united international campaign for education this year. This campaign is actively building public pressure on governments to fulfill their promises to provide free, quality education for all people, in particular for children the promise made ten years back. In 1990 in Jomtien governments pledged ‘Education for All by Year 2000’, which has in reality remained only a hollow slogan.

Now in the year 2000, the stage is all set for the World Forum on Education to be held in Dakar next month, wherein the governments will announce new deadlines. During this period the target year has been reset thrice first to 2005, then 2010 and now 2015 what more proof do we want of the insensitivity of our governments. If everything carries on at the same pace then by the year 2015 another 75 million children would be added to the present force of almost 900 million illiterates. It is a sheer mockery on the sentiments of the vulnerable and the ignorant lot and clearly is a reflection on the utter lack of political will. The callous attitude of the government is also reflected in their policies in budgetary allocations for education.

Though illiteracy has been recognised as a global phenomenon, but is normally perceived as a bureaucratic and a welfare measure. There is a definite need of a strong civil society movement in human right perspective. We must realise that education denied is future denied. It is a denial of development opportunities of an individual and society and a denial of the fundamental right of a human being. The educated elite is so besieged by materialistic surge that they hardly seem to take a note of the miseries of those less fortunate. Consciously or unconsciously, they wish to maintain the status quo as it secures and strengthens their position in the society and keeps away any form of competition.

OECD promises to eradicate poverty by the year 2015. The Social Summit is committed to eradicating both poverty and illiteracy in the same time span. The UN and the world community have reaffirmed their commitment to the Charters of Human Rights on its 50th anniversary. The nations that have ratified the UN Convention on Rights of the Child are not only morally but also legally bound to implement the right to basic education. ILO Convention 138 and the recent Convention 182 also stress upon education as a key alternative to combating child labour. None of these targets however can be achieved unless good quality education is ensured for all the children. Without this it is impossible to envision any form of participatory democracy and a just development. The benefits of the information technology can never reach to the masses. There is a vicious circle between poverty, adult unemployment, illiteracy and child labour and none can be tackled in isolation. We need to break this cycle now and education is definitely the key.

Global March movement therefore calls for mass mobilisation at all levels to generate political will among governments across the world. We strongly demand concrete legal measures, including constitutional provisions with a time bound action plan. It should be substantiated with adequate budgetary allocations for the elimination for child labour and provision of universal quality education. It is quiet disheartening to note that most developing nations are not even willing to spend two percent of their Gross National Product in these areas. Even the wealthier nations refrain from earmarking this small percentage in their development assistance budget, for the education of children in poor nations.

One of our major demands is ‘debt swap’ for education. It is seen that many of the developing countries have to spend four to five times their primary education budget only for payment of interest on their foreign debts. For instance my own country, India, spend 3 billion USD on primary education as against 12 billion USD as debt services. The Global March also seeks cooperation of multilateral financial stalwarts like World Bank, International Monetary Fund, Inter-American Development Bank, the wealthier nations and other regional institutions. We also recommend some form of educational tax as a social responsibility be introduced on multinational corporations to generate extra resources for the developing countries. The march calls the world community to set up a Global Education Fund to fight illiteracy.

It is now time to put aside the outdated development indicators such as per capita income and energy consumption, GNP etc. Instead, we need to set a new parameter -- that how much money is being spent by a nation on education, health and on ensuring rights of children in their own countries and to help others.

Finally, the Global March calls for a child friendly world order where no child is left languishing in servitude. All children should be free to enjoy their childhood and receive quality education with respect and human dignity. Based on years of experience in this field I can sense a fast growing consciousness and concern among the civil society all over the world. The day is, therefore, not far when this becomes a reality for many of us to see in our lifetime.

Kailash Satyarthi... the seeker of truth
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