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"Corporates should also play an important role in safeguarding the interests of children"

Nobel Laureate Kailash Satyarthi is spearheading a new campaign again child abuse. The activist plans to bring together on one platform a host of Nobel laureates from different fields. The objective: use their stature to win global support for the rights of children. Satyarthi believes that the state, corporates and the civil society must work hand in hand to ensure justice for the neglected and abused children across the world. Edited excerpts from an interview with Business Today's Anilesh Mahajan.   


We are all hearing about your new initiative "Laureates and Leaders for Children" ...

It is for the first time in history that a strong platform of Nobel Laureates and world leaders is being created for the cause of children. We are calling it 'Laureates and Leaders for Children' and it is aimed at bringing these leaders together at India's Rashtrapati Bhawan. We have got support of 34 Nobel Laureates from different disciplines and 14 will be joining here. But many of those who are not coming will send or have sent their video message. Several UN agency heads and some top children rights activists and some kings and queens would be also joining this initiative.

Simultaneously we are also talking about a very ambitious and largest ever youth campaign, '100 million for 100 million'. We are trying to harness the energy and idealism of some 100 million youth who are better off in schools, colleges, universities and in the professional world. This would take up the cause of 100 million left out children around the world. Around 100 million young people suffer violence, slavery, trafficking, prostitution, child marriage. Many of these are children who are forced to leave their country and become refugees. So, 100 million young people are going to connect with 100 million left out children. This campaign will be launched on December 11 in India and that will be followed in many more countries in the coming months.   

How are you going to arrange the required funds for these campaigns? Are some corporate houses bringing in some capital?

The whole idea is that corporates should also play an important role in safeguarding the interest of children globally and it means that we have to be more responsible and ensure that no child labour or trafficked child is involved in the supply chain and production activities anywhere. They should also ensure that, wherever they are operating, they can help vulnerable, marginalised children through education, healthcare, immunisation social awareness, social empowerment, etc. They can also play an important role in protecting children. We invited a number of business leaders, as well as representatives of public sector undertakings from across the world. The conventional wisdom was that these are the responsibilities of the state but now in the last 20 years two new sectors have emerged: one is the civil society and the other is the corporate world, with their own set of values. Civil societies have tremendous knowledge of and grassroots experience about social problems. Similarly, the corporate sector is not just a money making machine; now their character is changing very fast. They have started to think of ecological issues, how to protect the environment and how to protect people. Hence, consider them equal stakeholders to safeguard not only the children but planet and people at large. I call it 'Business with Compassionate Intelligence'.  Profits should be connected with people of the planet. That will be possible not only through conventional wisdom and intelligence but also by keeping in mind how to make this a happier world where your customers, your consumers, your workers, your management people and other stakeholders feel happy and not a sense of guilt at any stage. That would be a business with compassionate intelligence.

Do you think, in a way, the world is changing, with deglobalisation voices propping up. Do you this the right time for such efforts?

No, we have seen the impact of globalisation. There was globalisation of the economy and the markets and then technological growth. The technological growth was driven by fast data and digital transmission, so that became the globalisation of information and knowledge. We have seen some good results as well as some drastic ones because of it. People are now trying to squeeze themselves into their own identity of nationalities, nationalism and things like that. It is opposite to the traditional globalisation thoughts. But you cannot stop globalisation but what you can do or what we are trying to do through these two initiatives is to bring 'globalisation of compassion'. The West has initiated the globalisation of the economy, which has its own ramifications and, learning from this experience, this is the right time to try 'globalization of compassion'. Eventually, you will have to feel connected and it will make you more confident and fearless. Fear is manifested in many ways - the fear of losing a job, the fear of losing identity. It can be an outcome of Brexit and other events. It is necessary to create a different culture, globalisation of compassion. When we start feeling for others at a different or deeper level, it will help each others needs.

But we also have seen that the last 20-25 years of globalisation also led to phases of exploitation. This included child labour, exploitation of labour through informal channels. So do you think that this compassion model will help individual countries to rethink and change the way they operate?

Yes. This is precisely why we wanted to harness and channelise the power of youth. Simultaneously, we are trying to engage moral authorities from all walks of life, right from the Nobel laureates to other thought leaders. The idea is to begin with the children, it's much more easier to get into the bigger debate thereafter.  Children are non-controversial -- nobody can say let children die of hunger, let the children face violence. No one can justify slavery or child rape.  

What sort of role do you see the US playing under Donald Trump?

I would be definitely inviting him to take the lead in protecting children of his country and children globally. I know that hundreds and thousands of children are working in mining, agriculture, shops and other places in the US itself and they are facing hazardous situations dealing with machines, electricity, pesticides and chemicals. Trump has to do something for those children as well.

And what about refugees?

In case of refugees, I have been saying again and again that no purse pockets or borders should be closed for children. No heart should be closed for children- children are the true reflection of god and humanity/human beings. We should not put any walls or barriers or borders for children. I am of the opinion that one day the world will get rid of these borders. By narrowing your minds and hearts, you are not allowing children to travel freely around the world. Trump has won with an ultra-nationalist campaign...

Let him come. People in election campaigns use all kind of populist measures and the masses follow them. But once they are elected, the seat has its own character and gravity.  The seat of the president of the USA comes with its own set of powers and responsibilities and, so, whoever assumes offic, will not be able to ignore the moral responsibility towards the country, the world.  When he speaks of deportation of illegal immigrants, my biggest concern is the children. What is going to happen to the children who are born in the US to such immigrant parents. So, the government has to ensure justice, care and protection for those children.   


And what about Europe? It is also going through turmoil.

Even in Europe children should not suffer because of politics, measures or ideological factors. Children are not responsible. We have to create a safe world for them. Eventually these very children are the custodians of the earth. If we are not treating our custodians well, how can we say we are civilised? China is also changing its economic policies. But we hardly know the fate and magnitude of the exploitation going on there. What are your apprehensions about child labour in that country? Will your group be working to bring a change there...

I don't think anybody has deep knowledge and understanding about the situation of child labour in China. Except on a few occasions when media exposed it. Children were found working in some electronic there definitely must be child labour but we need more concrete knowledge about it. China is also a part of the world and this moral platform is universal and the message will go across. We are not going to pressurise anyone as it is against the essence of this platform.

China has one-fifth population of the world and its voice is excluded...

Within China also we try to contact the Chinese youth and Chinese people. A big segment of young people are denied their rights and the voice must go across. Nowadays, you cannot stop any communication. Luckily the social media and the web...

But they blocked Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms...

Yes, but there are other ways. People are getting information through so many ways. The young people are doing business and have open minds so it's not possible to keep everything closed for ever.

And what about India?

India has made considerable progress, no doubt about it. In many areas for children, like education, there has been substantial increase in enrolment, the number of child labourers have gone down, instances of child marriage are lesser than before. Inspite of this progress, India being the largest democracy in the world, the most ancient civilisation, our moral responsibility and obligation are much more. And if see that our girls are not safe -- there are instance of girls sold at a lower price than animals -- and we are unable to impart quality education to all our children, then I see these as big challenges. So, we have all stakeholders like the world of  business, religious leaders and the government. We must work hand in hand to get rid of these crimes against children which are still prevalent.

Can we see your platform helping governments in framing strategies for making laws?

Not Laws. But we will encourage the establishments to promote pro-children policies and we will lend our voices and expertise in these areas and discipline to the government. And encourage intergovernmental agencies as well as the business sector to prioritise the issues related to children. We will be supporting all efforts and encourage positive steps towards this cause.

Any countries you have shortlisted, or any country that you want to go to first? How will this group actually work?

These details will be worked out when the laureates and leaders meet and form a consensus. We intend to meet every year, but would continuously engage with each other. If there are any emerging and pressing issues, we may react anytime collectively. More or less, the moral authority and power of these Nobel laureates is still intact, people still have that respect. This authority has never been acknowledged or identified or harnessed for the cause of children.  

When I share my experiences and issues related to children facing violence with Nobel Laureates from different fields and disciplines, many of them get shocked. They don't come across these things or they never thought about these issues - these are the people who have devoted their whole life for knowledge sitting in labs, library and universities. They too are human beings, who also have a sense of idealism and feelings of compassion. They are like old saints who have been meditating for many years. You intellectual powers and your research, your inventions and other accomplishments are well known and utilised by the world but what about the moral authority you possess? That is not really utilised. This they have realized because their voice cannot be ignored easily. If 20 to 50 Nobel Laureates write a letter to any head of UN and similar agencies it cannot be ignored. No president or PM can ignore them... that is my sense.

Many countries refuse to acknowledge that child marriage should be illegal. You will need to bring about change in these kind of issues...

Yes, the politicians keep several considerations in mind, don't raise their voice and do not interfere in the affairs of others but we can speak out loudly for those young people who are suffering. The moral platform will be working on this without any bias or any hesitation or fear.

I have been a part of several campaigns against child marriages in Pakistan in Bangladesh, India and also in some of the African countries on genital mutilation of girls but not with this platform. I'm part of such campaigns even now but let us see how these Laureates and Leaders react to it.

Is Malala Yousafzai also coming or part of this summit?

She is not coming. We have invited her but she is a student and is busy with her studies and unfortunately her examination is round the corner. She is like my daughter and even my wife has a very good rapport with her.

But she is an icon ...

Let her complete education at least. She herself has understood that completing education is important. We have to keep that in our mind. We have a very good relationship with her and her family, Do they (Nobel Laureates) joining you also have a common agenda on children rights? For example, in Philippines there are certain kind of issues related to children and it would be different from Syria, etc...

Unfortunately nobody is coming from the Philippines but, yes, they are coming from the Middle East like Tawakkul Karman who is representing Yemen. She is a bright young lady who is fighting violence against children specially the refugees. Similarly Nobel laureates from Tunisia are fighting for democracy and against autocracy.  I am not sure that any of the Nobel Laureates who is coming is solely working on the issues of children. I was the first to be conferred a Nobel for the cause of children. It never happened in 125 years of Nobel.

My last question is about demonetisation. How do you see this step helping in eradication of child labour?

I supported this because every single penny earned through human trafficking and child trafficking, child prostitution, slavery and child labour is black money. The whole chain of operations is managed with black money. So the step has helped a lot (this big assault on black money). Not just crimes against children, any type of organised crimes happening in India or anywhere in the world through black money. Black money perpetuates crime. There is also a third angle and that is corruption. Organised crime cannot function without a corrupt government machinery. Corruption, black money and organised crime make a full circle. But to fully control organised crime, this a good step but not enough because it is an ongoing activity. We are unable to make good laws and enforce them if our justice delivery system is not fast enough, if we don't have adequate number of judges. If you don't have all this in place, this issue will go on. Overall, it is good move but it is one of the moves. We will have to plug other channels as well to have total control on crimes.

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