London: A bill currently in the Indian Parliament on child labour totally will be a “test” of the new government on how they take the issues of the most exploited children in their political priority, says child rights campaigner and Nobel Laureate Kailash Satyarthi.

Satyarthi, 61, was referring to an amendment to the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act that will lead to a total ban on all forms of child labour up to the age of 14 and ban on worst forms of child labour involving hazardous work up to the age of 18.

“Also, rehabilitation must be ensured in law and only then, the law will be synchronised with the existing international ILO (International Labour Organisation) conventions. We are waiting… it would be a test of the present government on how they take the issues of the most exploited children in their political priority,” he said.

Acknowledging some positive steps taken by the Narendra Modi government – that came to power last year, he said: “The present government is taking several bold initiatives on the social agenda, be it Swachh Bharat or Clean India or be it Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao. These are very, very fundamental social initiatives which are being taken by the government and the Prime Minister himself, and are quite significant.

“I have spoken to the Prime Minister that while we are striving at making a Clean India or a Prosperous India, it can be sustainable only when we make it a child-friendly India.

Sustainability and protection of children are two sides of the same coin. If we invest in children now, we make society sustainable forever.”

In an interview with PTI during a visit to London to help launch a new Anti-Trafficking Fund by Prince Charles’ British Asian Trust earlier this week, the activist also called on Indians, wherever they are, to go a step further in their support for child rights in India.

“Global Indians can play an important role not only in India but globally. But maybe to begin with, in India because they feel more emotionally connected with Indian society.

“They have to show the leadership in taking risks sometimes despite some of the red-tapism or trust deficit.

They have to go a mile further in identifying the most precious issues because if the largest democracy in the world is having child slavery or (child) trafficking or (child) labour, then we cannot think of a shining image of India,” he noted.

His message for the corporate world was similar ? to develop a culture of social responsibility so that the government does not feel the need to make corporate social responsibility (CSR) a legal requirement.

He said: “Forced CSR could be a beginning but it is not a solution. CSR should be a culture, not an imposition, because social responsibility is something which has to be embedded in corporate behaviour not just through law.

“But since most of the corporates were not willing to listen perhaps led the government to make it (a) law. I’m not against the law but it should be part of their culture. An unethical corporate is not a sustainable corporate. Ethics and social responsibility and profit must go hand in hand.”

In reference to his Nobel win last year, Satyarthi admitted that it had pushed the issue of child rights on to the global agenda.

He said: “Ordinary child rights activists around the world are feeling empowered. I’ve never seen that enthusiasm, spirit and hope as now.

“One reason is that they can associate themselves with me easily, that I am one of the very ordinary activists as they are. Empowerment of the entire child right movement globally is most vital because this was the first time the Nobel Peace Prize was conferred to a child rights person.

“Equally important is that global leaders are listening to such issues through me, which has never happened before. I met President Obama and two weeks ago, (I met) UN secretary- general Ban-Ki moon and they were very supportive of the agenda. They were very open to talk and equally positive in carrying it forward. That gives me more optimism.”

Satyarthi also called on these world leaders to take urgent action on a more holistic approach to children’s rights to freedom and education.

“Denial of education is a violence, denial of health is a violence. Many people may think it’s a development issue but for me, it’s a crime because every child is born as a free child and free to learn.

“I think that we have to re-define the notion of violence against children and try to bring various aspects of abuse and exploitation under one umbrella of violence. So we have to protect our children from all sorts of violence. That’s why governments and UN agencies have to work more closely towards a holistic thinking on such issues,” he said.

Speaking about his adopted “daughter” Malala Yousafzai, also a co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014, he said they were both working on the same issue.

“She is like my daughter, it’s a known fact in the world and she calls me ‘naya abbu’ (new father). Our connect is more personal. I know that there is a great sense of mutual love and respect among the ordinary people (of India and Pakistan).

I have been working for many, many years in Pakistan as well on the same issues,” he said.

Asked about his views on the strained India-Pakistan relations, he said: “It is a political and diplomatic issue and I have trust in my Prime Minister and the Prime Minister of Pakistan to solve the issue.”


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Child labour bill will be test of Modi govt’s priorities: Nobel winner Satyarthi