Indian Nobel Peace Laureate Calls for Global Action to End Child Slavery

By Belinda Goldsmith 18 November 2014

LONDON — Nobel peace laureate Kailash Satyarthi called on Monday for global support for a campaign to end child slavery that will be launched this week as new figures estimated almost 36 million people are living as slaves today.

Satyarthi, who was the surprise co-recipient of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize for his work fighting child slavery and exploitation in India, said not enough was being done to protect children from lives of servitude.

His comments came as the second global slavery index by the Walk Free Foundation, an Australia-based human rights group, estimated 35.8 million are born into servitude, trafficked for sex work, trapped in debt bondage or exploited in forced labor.

The International Labor Organization estimates that there are 21 million people in forced labor worldwide, of which 5.5 million, or 26 percent, are aged under 18.

Satyarthi, 60, whose non-government organization Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA) has been credited with freeing over 80,000 child laborers in India over the past 30 years, urged global backing for an “End Child Slavery Week” campaign that will be launched at the Trust Women conference in London this week.

“[We must] build new alliances and partnerships that help us march toward the goal of creating a society free from child slavery,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on the eve of the conference on trafficking and other women’s rights issues.

“The fight against child slavery is the fight against traditional mindset, policy deficit and lack of accountability and urgency for children across the globe.”

The campaign is an initiative involving various groups including the Global March against Child Labor, Anti-Slavery International, Education International, International Trade Union Confederation, Kids Rights Foundation and the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Satyarthi was little known when he was awarded this year’s Nobel prize along with Pakistani teenager Malala Yousafzai, who has become a global icon for girls’ education after surviving an assassination attempt by the Taliban.

When the prize was announced on Oct. 10 he only had 100 followers on Twitter. Now he has over 45,000.

In India, however, Delhi-based BBA is known for staging often dramatic rescues of child laborers, many sold into servitude by poor families, and rehabilitating them in residential homes.

Aware that 70 percent of child laborers come from villages, BBA has also created nearly 400 “model villages” in India which are free from child exploitation and promote children’s education and address traditions such as child marriage.

Satyarthi, who founded BBA in 1980 after quitting his job as an electrical engineer, said winning the Nobel Prize had created unprecedented attention for all forms of economic exploitation, violence, denial of education and other child rights.

Satyarthi, who will address the Trust Women’s conference organized by the Thomson Reuters Foundation on Wednesday and help launch the End Child Slavery campaign, said a major challenge was to maintain attention on this issue.

As part of the End Child Slavery Week campaign, the Thomson Reuters Foundation on Monday launched #Choosetosee, a strategic initiative with a video and petition to fight child slavery.

“As the anti-slavery community, we must together ensure that this attention is transferred into concrete action and results,” Satyarthi said.