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Another denial of child participation!


I will be on my way to Florence, in a few hours time. There are many loose ends to tie at the last moment and amidst all this mad rush, I cannot but stop myself from sharing my deep anguish with you. In less than a week's time, we would be participating in Children's World Congress on Child Labour. But even then my heart and soul would still be with those 200 children and dozens of child activists and my distinguished colleagues, who had been deprived of their right to be with us in Florence. Theirs is a blatant violation of human rights and child rights in particular. It is an assault on the emotions and enthusiasm, hopes and dreams of those children by none other than the democratically elected government of Italy. The Italian authorities have behaved in an extremely dictatorial, racial and discriminatory manner to stop those children from coming at the last minute. Is it not a cruel mockery that they decline to issue visas to the young children under the pretext of security or the fear of their settling down in that European country? Permission has been granted only to 25 children and above 14 years of age from entire Africa, Asia, some parts of Latin America and Middle East. Ironically the restriction was not for children from non-visa countries like Europe and most of the regions of America to Italy.


I know personally how much time and effort had been rendered by our regional and national coordinators in the participatory process of election of children. A series of meetings and workshops were organised, lot of hard work had been put into for obtaining passports and other legal documents, and enormous amount of trust and hope was built with the parents and community."

The Global March Against Child Labour, in around 144 countries, was left reeling under shock and anger. The Italian government knew for the last two years that Children's World Congress would be taking place. It had also known that the city of Florence and the region of Tuscany governed by political party in opposition in the centre have welcomed the initiative and offered to provide some logistical support. We are thankful to them as they joined me at the launch of the World Congress in Florence on October 7 th, 2003. It had also known that Congress would be hosted by one of the most respected civil society organisations – Mani Tese and three powerful Trade Unions- CGIL, CISL and UIL in Italy. But even then with all their knowing the federal governments didn't bother to change their mindset despite our tireless efforts to do so.


We reached at a stage when we had only one option-- to oppose and go for a worldwide protest against this discriminatory and anti-child decision. But by that time, our regional coordinator had spent huge amount of money, manpower and time in the logistic preparation including booking hotels and flights. In that situation, though it was highly disappointing that many children would not be able to take part in the Congress, it would have been more harmful to go for the cancellation of the event. I sincerely acknowledge the maturity, wisdom, cooperation and understanding of the Global March International Council who were able to find an alternative in resolving the crisis. I know, one or two of them are still in disagreement and angry about the entire episode.Yet, we still finally decided to hold the Florence Congress as per scheduled with a symbolic representation of children from Africa and Asia and visa required countries.


Notwithstanding the above, Global March does not and cannot condone the farce and discriminatory attitude of a European government. So, we decided to organise a follow-up Congress before the end of this year, in Africa or Asia. A three-member subcommittee in the council has been assigned to immediately explore on the possible dates and venue. We hope to save some money for the upcoming event and mobilise local logistics and resources. We stand by our promise to give opportunity and hence chance to all those children who had been selected and possessed required documents to participate in the next Congress.


I know personally how much time and effort had been rendered by our regional and national coordinators in the participatory process of election of children. A series of meetings and workshops were organised, lot of hard work had been put into for obtaining passports and other legal documents, and enormous amount of trust and hope was built with the parents and community. In a number of countries, the children themselves addressed the media on the issues they were supposed to take up in Florence.


I recall a small incident in my secondary school. I had been chosen to represent my school in a district level debate competition, in a nearby town. For the first time in my life, I was to travel with my classmates instead with the usual family members. I packed my clothes, books and diaries, pencils and everything very carefully and the whole night my mind was in a whirl with thousands of arguments and counter-arguments for the debate competition. But suddenly I was told that my school would not be participating. All my hopes were dashed to pieces. I could not forget that pain for not being able to participate for several days. So, I can well understand the pain and suffering of all those children who had ardently looked forward to participate in such a grand event but would not be able to do so due to the bigotry of the government. I can feel and relate to their immense dissatisfaction and frustration.


While talking to you, I am thinking of my younger sisters and brothers from the remote places in Kenya, Uganda, Mozambique, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Russia and many more countries – those who had planned to fly for the first time. Some of them had never stepped inside an aeroplane but just seen it flying high up in the sky. Most of them have never seen or come across children from other countries and continents. They have done extraordinary work in the fight against child labour in their own surroundings, which is what they had wanted to share with their friends from other countries thousands and thousands miles away from them. But everything flopped!


Nevertheless, this does not mean that Florence Congress will not generate the impact, which we had envisaged. The discrimination in child participation has already become an issue and will be definitely echoed in Florence. Therefore we can hope that a significant amount of objectives that we had planned would be achieved alongside raising of additional issues of political repression on the sacred universally agreed principle of child participation.


I am questioning you. I am asking myself too. What kind of world are we shaping? What kind of hypocrisy are we living in? What kind of unipolar world is being invoked in the garb of safety and security and in the name of threat to terrorism? It is quite understandable that you want a world free of terror! But my question to you would still be that: Is your newfound world going to be without children too? How hollow is your talk of globalisation when the most precious gift of God to the world, the innocent children, are not allowed to travel freely?


The World Congress was being organised on a massive scale with an aim that children from the most difficult backgrounds and now turned into icons of hopes and success, would assemble to shape the future of humankind in their own way. However, now only a limited few would be taking part. We accept the entire episode as a challenge to our persistent struggle. The world leaders --- Listen! You have been signing treaties, conventions and protocols for children but have never honoured them with genuine intention and political will. The children have always been left behind and this time too historyseems to have repeated itself. Nothing new, you see!


You cannot stop the voices of millions of children and their supporters from the world over for long and children must be in the centre of your decision-making. No one can stop them from coming to the forefront.


And the time has come now!

The Congress in Florence is a forceful knock at your door --- children will be there to remind and ask how long will you ignore their existence and capabilities in decision-making processes?

Kailash Satyarthi... the seeker of truth
Copyright © 2018 Kailash Satryarthi
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