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SPEECHES

Press Address by Kailash Satyarthi at the launch of Kerry Kennedy’s book 'Speak Truth to Power', New Delhi, India

 

Speaking on the Importance of HUMAN RIGHTS Educational Kit for the School Children in USA



My name is Kailash Satyarthi. For the past decade I have worked to rescue children, women and men from enslavement and inhumane working conditions in the many unsafe factories, fields and mines of India. This is not a problem isolated to India alone. There are 250 million children forced into child labor across the world, including 246,000 children working at agricultural labor and in sweatshops in the United States. I am proud of the essential work I do, but I realize that freeing children from slavery and bonded labor may be perceived as a somewhat ... "specialized" task. It is, in fact, just one step in many along the path of providing adequate care for the children all around us.

 

Another, equally important step that pertains to all children from those born in the most abject poverty to those born into the richest of families--is education. We all know that literacy and basic math skills are crucial for every child to be able to function effectively in today's world, a world that appears to be increasingly interconnected, increasingly based on the ability to manipulate information as much as physical things. Beyond these most basic of skills, however, there is yet another level of education to be achieved.

 

It has become obvious that even the allegedly advanced educational systems of the world are failing to meet the intrinsic human needs of the individual and of society as a whole. These needs have become obscured behind the cynicism of "us" versus "them" that factionalizes children even before they are equipped to think critically about the facts of the world for themselves. If children are brought up first and foremost to evaluate the world through such a filter, even before coming to recognize and celebrate the commonalities and potentials of the human race, then we are, in fact, handing our future over to cynicism and pessimism. So how can we guide our children to act on the issues that confront them daily and can seem insurmountable? I am speaking of the necessity of including Human Rights Education in the classrooms of today. It is my belief that one of the most useful tools that we can give to our children today is a critical framework based on universal principles of Human Rights...specifically, on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This is a document that is both flexible enough to allow for the variety of human lives and human experiences that exist across the globe. Yet it is strong enough, and just enough to provide for us all the parameters of what is and is not acceptable in our behavior towards one another. It is both a simple guard against a lackadaisical and boorish relativism and a trustworthy standard of respect for human life in its many permutations. How can we give our children this tool and teach them to use it wisely?

 

The educational packet is a marvelous tool used to introduce the principles of human rights to high school and university aged young adults, and teaches them to apply them to their own lives and situations they encounter. Developed in collaboration with Amnesty International, this 8-page packet includes a definition of what we mean when we talk about "human rights," a brief history of human rights, as well as an introduction to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights itself. Interviews from a number of human rights defenders from Speak Truth to Power, have been excerpted here, using the individual stories of people, like, myself, who have found a calling in Speaking and Acting out against Human Rights abuses, as a lens through which to examine specific human rights issues, from slavery to the death penalty, from gender discrimination to police brutality, to name a few. Also included are resources and guides for further investigation, discussion questions and exercises for classroom use in learning to apply the Human Rights framework to real-life situations. Equally important, there are stories of other young people today who have dared to stand up and begun to make a difference in their

 

communities. And finally, the entire script of Ariel Dorfman's wonderful play: Speak Truth to Power: Voices from Beyond the Dark is included, complete with staging instructions allowing organizations to put on this moving theatrical adaptation of the voices if all of these defenders. This publication in English, will be distributed free of charge to high schools and universities by Amnesty International. The education packet is also available on-line at www.speaktruthtopower.org, and can be downloaded by anyone who chooses. It is the goal of the STTP project that this packet will be translated into five more languages, including Spanish, French, Arabic, Russian, and Portuguese) in the months to come, and distributed to many thousands of children in many countries. This alone could start a revolution in ideas in a new generation.

 

I encourage anyone here interested in finding out more about this educational packet to contact the educational division of Amnesty International, or to look on line at Speaktruthtopower.org for a copy or information on how to obtain more. It is up to us, after all, not only to educate our children, our future, on the ins and outs of numbers and letters and theories and facts. It is also our duty to give them a moral and just framework within which to use those skills--the framework of universal human rights.

 

A BOOK ON CHILDREN IN RUGMARK NEPAL

I am excited to note that a comprehensive report on Rugmark Nepal is published by Ms. Tanya Roberts-Davis of Rugmark Canada.

 

I could recall an incident of a chilly mid night, at the railway platform of Mirzapur (North East India) the hub of carpet belt. After freeing a dozen of slave children from a carpet loom shade and repatriating back to their village handing them over to their mothers who had lost all hopes, I was overwhelmed and was waiting to catch a train at midnight. Incidentally, I saw atleast four dozen children shivering in the cold and half asleep, disembarking from the same train that we were supposed to board to go to the villages. Obviously, they were being lured away to join the carpet factories as bonded labourers. I confronted them. This led to an argument when two policemen shouted at me for intervening in the matter. ‘You are creating a law and order problem at a public place’, they alleged. I was detained for the night. Despite my best efforts, I could not save the children. This set off some thoughts in my mind. Even though it was impossible to end child servitude in the carpet industry, as the number of children brought by the carpet owners in connivance with the administration simply exceeds the number, which we have been liberating.

 

‘Why shouldn’t I try to awake the conscience of the consumers who use these beautiful Rugs knowingly/unknowingly and eventually become a party to perpetuate slavery’, I thought. And, why can’t we suggest them to buy only those Rugs, which are free from child labour. It was undoubtedly an uphill task, I knew, but I was also aware of the apples, bananas and tomatoes with bio-food level. I wondered why the consumers in Germany and other Western countries would not react positively to save the life and liberty of children, more so when they are responsive enough to boycott fur products to save animals.

 

Next day, after coming back to New Delhi in my office, I put this challenge before some of my friends in Germany who supported our projects. The first one approached was Rainer Kruse in Stuttgart who was very excited though simultaneously cautious. Finally, we were able to launch a Campaign ‘Carpet Consumers Campaign’ / ’Rugmark’ in 1990, with a call to buy only those carpets which are guaranteed NO CHILD LABOUR. Amazingly, it was like a wildfire. Everybody was asking for solutions. Thanks to innumerous individuals and organisations who helped us in evolving, designing and implementing the whole monitoring and labelling system on carpets, and Rugmark India was born. Nepal followed the idea and now Pakistan actively practicing it.

 

Rugmark a mechanism to monitor, control, certify and label on carpets free of child labour is a unique endeavour to educate and suggest alternatives to carpet consumers to give fillip towards trade promotion, to provide a conducive atmosphere leading to restoration of childhood and education for these children and aiming to open up a floodgate of job opportunities to adults in hundreds of thousands.

 

Rugmark is not the only solution to this deep rooted problem in carpet industries and elsewhere, but it is definitely one of the most effective endeavours which has apparently shown a substantial decrease in child labour in this industry, and created successful rehabilitation models with encouragement for trade. It has this tremendous potential of replication and multiplying in several industries and countries, which are already learning from the Rugmark initiative.

 

I am grateful to Ms. Tanya Roberts-Davis for her extraordinary labour, and the service she was able to provide Rugmark Nepal through bringing out this book.

Kailash Satyarthi... the seeker of truth
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