On 10-11 December 2016, a new page in the history of child rights is set to unfold. Two powerful constituencies — Nobel Laureates and world leaders — will unite in India for the well-being of children.
Why laureates and leaders for children? Because, while these luminaries are doyens in their respective fields, they also hold a moral authority in the world. I remember, after receiving my prize in Oslo, I was invited to address laureates of other disciplines. I spoke to them briefly about my 35 years of struggle and the cause we fight for.
I told them that there are 168 million child labourers in the world; that 5.5 million children are still bound in shackles of slavery. I told them how children have been sold for as little as a cigarette pack. I described to them the condition of children in mines, fields, brick kilns and carpet looms.
Most of my audience was taken aback, and you could hear the snuffles. They had never known that this is a reality that children face every day. A few said, "Is it happening today, Kailash?" "Didn’t slavery get abolished in the 19th century?" "Can we do something about this?" they asked me, expressing an earnest desire to do something for children. I could sense the compassion in their voices and started thinking of ways to give them a way to help.
That was the moment when the idea of channelising the less harnessed power of Nobel Laureates for the cause of the most deprived children came to my mind.
An incident in Lindau, Germany last year reaffirmed my faith in this power. I was invited to speak at a summit in Lindau where other Nobel Laureates mostly from the sciences were present. I got 14 of them to sign a letter to the UN Secretary-General demanding an increase in global investment in education. Just a few days later, the Secretary-General referred to it while announcing a declaration at the Oslo Financing for Education Summit and launching a new international committee for financing education. My trust in the strength of the laureates in bringing important social change was validated.
Another thing I want to challenge is the extreme contradiction that exists in the world today. While contradictions have been inherent in human history, when the contradictions become so severe that innocent children have to pay its cost, it is time to halt and think.
I am talking about contradictions in today’s realities. Many laws and safeguards exist but millions of children are enslaved; technology and knowledge exist but it lies in the hands of a privileged few. Globalisation has expanded but global citizenship has narrowed.
The Laureates and Leaders for Children Summit will be a platform that bridges over these contradictions with their moral strength. Dalai Lama, Princess Charlene of Monaco, the First Lady of Panama Lorena Castillo de Varela, former Australian prime minister Julia Gillard, Kerry Kennedy, president of Robert F Kennedy Human Rights, Senator Tom Harkin (retired) and Nobel Peace laureates José Ramos-Horta, Leymah Gbowee, Tawakkol Karman are some of the guests joining in. Apart from the 25 laureates and leaders, 250 other thought leaders and eminent persons from business, academia, arts and sports will participate in the summit.
Like in any other initiative in my struggle, former child slaves — who are now child leaders in their own right — will also be an integral part. The summit will begin with a youth session where children leaders from over 15 countries will discuss solutions to children problems from their lens. These young sparks will fuel the summit itself, by bringing their perspective to every discussion with the laureates, leaders and other dignitaries.
On 11 December, the President of India, together with the Nobel Laureates and leaders in the presence of 6,000 children, will flag off history’s most ambitious youth campaign.
At the end of the summit, we’ll emerge with a strong and clear commitment for children – a commitment that builds common solutions towards a common future, with compassion.
Despite segmented efforts made by governments, corporates and civil society for children in the past, a strong unbiased voice for children was missing till now. The Laureates and Leaders for Children Summit are poised to be that missing link. It is a matter of pride for me as an Indian, that this missing link will emerge from the land of peace, wisdom, and compassion — India.