ISTANBUL (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The world must give urgent attention to children caught up in conflict, disasters or exploitation, Nobel Peace Laureate Kailash Satyarthi said on Monday, and leave no child behind.
Children make up about half of the rising numbers of people affected by war and natural disasters, and there are many more who are caught up in forced labour or slavery, Satyarthi told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“If you save one generation, then that generation would be capable to protect all generations to come. So invest in this generation now with a sense of urgency,” Satyarthi said on the sidelines of the first ever World Humanitarian Summit.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who called the two-day summit in Istanbul, has said the world is facing its worst humanitarian situation since World War Two.
About 130 million people are affected by war or natural disasters, and some 60 million have been forced to flee their homes.
Traffickers are preying on the rising number of children displaced by crises, Satyarthi said. Children who are hungry, have dropped out of school, are labourers or have been forced into child marriage also need attention, Satyarthi said.
“We cannot leave any child behind.”
Satyarthi, awarded the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize jointly with Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai, said he has seen great progress in child rights in recent years.
“Today so many people at the highest level are talking about children and education. That was not the case even five years ago.”
When Satyarthi began working on child trafficking 36 years ago, U.N. agencies had no programmes to deal with the issue, because then people thought slavery did not exist, he said.
Progress has not only been made in terms of attitudes but also results, he added.
The number of child labourers globally has dropped from almost 260 million in 2000 to 168 million now, he said. The number of children out of school has more than halved in that time.
“Concrete progress has been made. That shows that we are on the right track, but we are not still on the fast track,” he said.
For that, governments and aid agencies have to invest more in children.
At the moment, several U.N. agencies are involved in different aspects of one child’s welfare - for education, health, nutrition, protection from trafficking or labour. They need to coordinate more closely, he said.
The World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul is the first time Satyarthi has seen agencies working more closely together.
“They are talking in one tongue here at the summit.”
SHOCKED BY EUROPE
Satyarthi said he had been shocked at EU police reports earlier this year that some 10,000 unaccompanied migrant children who had fled to Europe had disappeared, many of them believed to have fallen into the hands of traffickers.
“How could it be possible in countries like Germany or Italy where very simple technology of camera surveillance can protect people in the camps and other places?”
Once they have disappeared it may be too late, he said, because it is so difficult to trace them, adding that investing in child protection is much less costly than trying to find children once they have fallen into the hands of traffickers.
Although the sudden influx of migrants into Europe meant it was hard to respond properly, the protection of children in the camps needed to be addressed, he said.