Nobel Peace Laureate Kailash Satyarthi is an Indian children’s rights and education advocate and an activist against child labour. He’s also the founder of Kailash Satyarthi Children’s Foundation.
Dear India, Today, we commemorate the day India displayed immense strength of character and conviction to development as wished for by its people. People with a firm belief in their motherland and more importantly, in themselves; to be able to uphold the principal values of the nation and work towards its evolution – as a country and as a morally aware society. My earnest gratitude and congratulations to all.
The Preamble to the Constitution of India defines aptly the fundamental principles of Justice, Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. The Constitution guarantees each one of us these ideals; assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the Nation. Our Constitution guaranteed Equality, Protection of Life and Liberty, including the Right to Life with Dignity and a Right against Exploitation.
Amongst these, the most notable is the abolishment of Untouchability under Article 17 and the Prohibition of trafficking of human beings where a violation of these was made punishable by law. Moreover, Article 24 prohibited the employment of children in hazardous occupations while Article 45 directed the state to provide (within 10 years of commencement of the Constitution) free and compulsory education to all children; significant steps on the path of holistic development and action.
Our failure in ensuring this means that our daughters are not safe even before their birth and at least 41 lakh children are being exploited as cheap labour every day. Today, we rank a distressing 135th on the Human Development Index. It is appalling and inexcusable to see that the largest democracy in the world struggles to reach even a mediocre level of human development.
Friends, when a girl gets trafficked, the constitutional assurance of Equality, Equity and Liberty is ridiculed by traffickers. Illiteracy breeds poverty and poverty breeds vulnerability; each is a cause of another and part of the same vicious circle of exploitation.
The single effective means of combating this is by eradicating illiteracy through wide-spread and meaningful education.
Although significant progress has been made towards achieving the goal of universal, equitable and quality education defined in the Right to Education (Article 21A), critical challenges continue to remain in forms of policy and implementation level gaps. We need to ensure that education is not merely an input which leads to an output; but, it carries a value.
Another field demanding intervention is the health sector for early childhood care and development. There is a perpetual requirement of action to enhance the quality of healthcare facilities in rural and backward areas with better allocation and utilisation of budget and reformative structuring of medical administration.
In spite of the fact that our nation has the world’s highest number of malnourished children, child labour and children vulnerable to sexual offences; it is exceedingly unfortunate that they receive the lowest budgetary allocation in terms of proportion. To 41% of our population – the children – the government dedicates less than 4% of its budget! This has to be utilised effectively and uniformly for their education, protection and health. All our efforts and policies crafted for the development of our children fail miserably with such decisions on behalf of the authorities.
The strength of any country lies in its people and I urge you to initiate strict action against these problems at hand. The way forward is to ensure a robust policy framework, developing knowledge capacity and skill of our children and people, increasing accountability of implementation agencies by targeted intervention and initiating direct action and a people's campaign with mass participation by our children and youth.
Today, on the 66th Republic day of our nation; let us make a promise to ourselves.
Let us promise to ensure protection and health to all. Let us promise to take steps towards the holistic development of the Republic of India as envisaged by our forefathers. It is time for all of us to take collective action for the age of apathy is over and the path of compassion is before us.
Let us promise to bring an end to exploitation and slavery of our children. Because our children deserve the power and liberty to dream.
If today we believe in them, tomorrow, they will rise and with them, will rise India.