Ending the scourge of child labor with Kailash Satyarthi

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Kailash Satyarthi—Nobel Peace Prize Laurate and founder of multiple social activist organizations including Bachpan Bachao Andolan, Global March Against Child Labour, and GoodWeave International—joins Reid Maki, NCL’s director of child labor issues and coordinator of the Child Labor Coalition to talk about his journey from local activist to global figure in the fight to end child labor and the state of affairs in the movement.

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Reid: I’m very, very pleased to be here with an old friend and a partner of ours for more than two decades, Kailash Satyarthi the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate from 2014. Kailash, welcome.

Kailash: Thank you. Thank you, Reid. It’s nice to be with you.

Reid: Oh, thank you. Well, I wanted to start with maybe letting folks learn a little bit about how you connected to these issues. What drove you to want to help children?

Kailash: Well, the first spark about this came to me when I was five and a half years old, and that was the first day of my schooling. So when I was entering through my school gate, I saw a cobbler boy, my age, sitting outside the school gate along with his father, and I could never forget that he was looking at our feet, not at us. I was thinking that, “Why was he not with the rest of us to go to school?” And the first question I asked my teacher was this, “Sir, why boy sitting outside and not with us?” And he said, “Calm down, this is not uncommon. Poor children have to help their families, they have to work and so on. Make new friends, this your first day.” I said, “Okay.” So when I went back, I was still thinking, and I saw the boy under the open sky outside. And then I asked my parents, my friends, and they all tried to convince me that, “Don’t be so concerned. It’s called common thing.”
I might have been convinced but every day I saw the boy looking at us for shoeshine or shoe repair and we were all wearing new shoes, so there was no question of any shoe repair. He was always empty in his eyes, on his face. One day I gathered my courage and straight asked to him and his father, “Why don’t you go to school?” The boy was shy but father answered and he said, “I never thought about it because my father, my grandfather, and I started working since we were children and so is my son”, he said. And then he took a pause and then with miserable eyes and voice, he said, “Sir, you guys are born to go to school. We are born to work.” It was such a shock for me, Reid. How some children are born to work? Why?
It should not be true because we are all equal human beings. So as a five and a half year old child, I could not accept it and I started crying in anger. But that had given me a new perspective of life that whatever the parents say, or teachers say, or the wise experienced adult people say, may not be correct, may not be true because it’s a mindset issue. It’s a complacency which goes from generations to generations and I refuse to accept it, that it should go on. But as a child, I could not do, I could not think more but I grew up with that fire inside me. So I started helping some poor children but I was not satisfied at how many old books I can collect to distribute to poor children, or how much money we can collect to pay the fee of children.
Most of the children who dropped out from schools, my friends, they joined the workforce somewhere as child laborers, so it was so deep in my heart. My parents wanted to make me an engineer, I did engineering, I taught in the university, but I followed my heart and my passion. And one day I gave up my career to work for this cause. And the most difficult thing, Reid, was that nobody [knew] about it, nobody was talking about it. India did not have any laws. There was nothing like the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. There was no ILO program, no government running any program anywhere in the world against child labor so it was very, very tough in the ‘70s and ‘80s. So I started in 1981 by directly freeing children from slavery.

Reid: And how did your parents react to your abandoning your career?

Kailash: Oh, I tell you that I was born in a modest family. We were not poor, but neither rich. So my father passed away, he was a policeman, an ordinary police constable. He passed away when I was young, so my mother was a widow and she had to sell her ornaments for my higher studies in engineering. So with a lot of expectation that I’m going to have one of the brightest careers and most lucrative careers, but then I gave up. My friends laughed at me. They made a mockery of me because they could not understand what I was talking about. And my mother also said that I can sell my house and anything if you want to start an orphanage or a school for poor children because she could not understand that I was talking about a systemic problem, being a system engineer, that this is not simply the matter of charity or pity for poor children. It’s a matter of challenging the set economic exploitative patterns and the mindset and the political apathy and so on. So it was quite tough. My mother cried, my elder brothers were very unhappy, my friends were unhappy. So it was tough.

Reid: And your work implicitly was attacking the caste system in India, right? Do you think that we can solve child labor without deconstructing the caste system?

Kailash: Well, this caste – a kind of social hierarchy or social apartheid, I would say – still goes on. But that was so cruel 50 years ago, half a century ago. And when I started freeing children, I found that most of the child laborers belong to that caste. So, in my own case, I gave up the whole caste system in my life when I was 15 years old and that was the story of changing my name also. The whole world was celebrating Mahatma Gandhi’s birth centenary in 1969 and I was 15 years old at that time. So I heard the speeches of Ghandians and politicians against untouchability and this kind of social discrimination, cultural discrimination so I was very influenced by them. And I tell you that I wanted to become a politician like them because my parents belonged to the highest caste, the Brahmin caste and they were practicing untouchability. The so-called Untouchable people were not allowed to enter our home. Even nobody touches them, and some food, grain or fruits are thrown in their basket from outside, things like that I was watching.
And then I convened a feast, inviting the Untouchable women to cook. Believing that these anti untouchability political leaders will definitely come and eat and it will set an example for everyone. But I tell you that none of them turned up. And it was so hard because I did it hiddenly from my family, so I did it in a Gandhi Park. So only five of my friends and I agreed to eat food which was cooked by them in the middle of the night. But when I went back home, I found that high caste people were fighting my family and they were threatening to outcast them. And boycott socially, and my mother was pleading, my brothers were pleading and they all scolded me. I said, “No, I did not do any mistake. I did not do anything wrong because we put filth outside and in the open latrines and these are the people who cleaned them up. And not only that, they carry all this filth on their head in the basket to take away” because there were no proper toilets those days in my town.
So finally, they said that Kailash has to go to river Ganges to wash away the sin and take holy dip and come back and organize a feast of 101 Priest Brahmins and he has to wash his feet and then drink that water. So I was more furious, I tell you. How could it be possible? I said, “This is nonsense. I’m not going to accept it.” And finally, they outcasted me that day. A separate room was given outside my courtyard, and my food was given in different utensils in my room. I was the youngest, though in the family, so most adorable for my mother and I was not allowed to go inside the eating area for years. And I had to live like that but that same night, I was so angry, and I’m in pain and I decided that I should give up all the caste system in my life. So the best way was to change the family name or surname that is normally the caste name. So I gave up that name and I looked for a new name to myself and after a while– I could not do it legally, though those days when I was 15. So when I was 18 plus, legally I could change my name. So I gave a new name to myself and that is Satyarthi and Satyarthi means “student of truth”.

Reid: Wow.

Kailash: So I challenged the caste system and I kept on challenging but that was very helpful in my fight against child labor and child slavery in the rest of my life.

Reid: Wow, what a start. That’s amazing. It’s an amazing story. Before we talk about your specific work to help children, could you provide a 30 second or a one minute overview of the problem of child labor in the world right now?

Kailash: Well, Reid, you know and I know for so many years that what an irony that we are still talking about those 152 million children who are trapped somewhere in child labor today when we are talking here and my audience [is] listening to us. So it’s a shameful situation that on one hand, we have conquered Mars, we are so fast in the internet and everything but we are not able to reach out to those children who are trapped in mining stone quarries, brick kilns, small factories, producing goods for people like us and construction industry, farmworkers everywhere including in the United States. That is a serious problem. I mean, they are handling all kinds of toxic materials, chemicals, and their number is the largest – the farmworker children. So, this is the situation. Do we have international law and treaty? We have national laws in many countries, not everywhere. Like we don’t have a specific law to prohibit child labor in farming here and in most parts of the world, but enforcement of those laws needs a lot of political will and so on.

Reid: We need more political will, yeah.

Kailash: Yeah, of course, and the social effort I would say.

Reid: Yeah. So You were a young man and you saw–

Kailash: I am still a young man.

Reid: You are still a young man. You’re definitely young at heart. I know you very well and I’ve witnessed that myself.

Kailash: The age does not matter much.

Reid: And you saw children being exploited and you saw children suffering. A lot of people saw that and did nothing, but you decided to act and begin rescuing children. Could you walk me through that thought process when you decided to do something that no one else was doing?

Kailash: Well, frankly speaking, Reid, I had no clue those days, no clue what to do, how to do. I was against many odds. I was determined that something is wrong. This is denial of human dignity and human freedom and that is unacceptable, that I knew, but since nobody was doing, nothing has been written, no institution was active, so it was impossible to think. And on the other hand, most people thought that slavery has been demolished 100 years ago like here, the proclamation of the abolition of slavery has solved the problem. People thought like that in India too, being the largest democracy of the world but I was not convinced. So I started writing in newspapers about these things. And not just on this, but child marriages or exploitation of women and children, other marginalized and left out communities. So, there was a limit. Newspapers cannot publish articles all the time on it, editorial op-eds. So finally, I started my own magazine.
One day, a desperate father knocked on my door who was a slave for 17 years along with his family. He and his newly married wife were lured away to work at a brick kiln that was about 400 or 500 kilometers or maybe 300 miles away from his home village. And then they were not allowed to leave that place, no wages, nothing. And all children were born and grew up there. So he was in desperation when he learned that his 15-year-old daughter was about to be sold to a brothel. He somehow jumped into a brick loaded truck in the middle of the night and left for some help.
So coincidentally, he met a person who was a subscriber of my magazine in the capital town of that [inaudible 15:59], and keeping an old copy of my journal, he came all the way to Delhi. When I was listening to him, I forgot to continue writing the story because I started thinking as if she was my daughter or my sister, what would I do? I will hold the whole world upside down. I’m not going to just write and wait that the government department or police will read this and then they will act on it. So I told him, he was a Muslim guy, his name was Vassal Khan. And I said, “Vassal, I’m not going to write anymore. I am going to rescue your daughter.” He said, “No, no, sir. These people are mafia. They are very powerful criminals having guns.” I said, “Whatever happens. she was my sister–” and I was 26 years old. So I went back to my home, took him along. That time after giving up my career and I moved to Delhi and running this magazine, my wife Sumedha and my son Bhuwan, one-year-old, living in a small storeroom of someone’s apartment outside and that was hardly an eight feet by 10 feet room. So when Vassal came – the guy with me – we provided him food but he was shocked. He thought that I could not help him, I’m poor. So I somehow convinced my wife and I requested Sumedha to give her wedding ornaments so that we can do all the homework and find some logistics like a car to go there and a truck because he said that there are more than 30 people enslaved like him from his village.
So I convinced some of our friends and we went there and so we were beaten up there. All the people who were about to be freed, they were all loaded into the truck. They were thrown away. Elderly women were crying and there was a big hubbub. Children were thrown, literally from the truck including this girl 15-years-old, Sabo was her name. So we had to come back, empty hands. It was a failure. Torn clothes, barefoot, injured bodies, but not injured soul, not empty heart. I started thinking that there should be some way out and I met some of my lawyer friends in Delhi, and they have helped to approach the court under an old British law that was habeas corpus. So we went there and within a few days, all these children, women and men were freed with the help of the court, and there were 36.
I cannot explain to you, Reid, in words because when these children who were born and grew up in slavery, and started working since very early childhood in brick kilns and that was highly, highly hazardous for them, they could not comprehend freedom, but they could see something different. So they were jumping on the street as if you put some frogs in a bucket and suddenly open the cover and they just jump here and there. So they were jumping, and the smile of freedom appeared on their faces. And the mothers who were trying to hold their hands and crying out of joy, to understand that they are free now was such an experience and since then I never looked back. I decided that now I’ve found my path and that was in 1981, 22nd Of March 1981.

Reid: Wow, that’s a while ago.

Kailash: Yeah.

Reid: In 2004 you were badly beaten trying to rescue some girls from a circus. Could you talk about that for a moment or two?

Kailash: Yeah, some parents approached me whose children were trafficked from Nepal to work in a circus in India. So when we started searching for them, there was no circus of this name because they had been sold to another circus and the other circus had also changed their name so it was very complicated. But then I learned that this person, the circus owner was a drug mafia, as well as the small arm smuggler from that corner of India, Nepal, China and Bangladesh. So we went to rescue them. We were taken away inside smoothly by the circus owner. And I could smell something because it is not so common that they will take inside. I understood at least that the children might have been taken away, all the girls.
And then as soon as we entered into the circus, which is like a fortress, you cannot easily go there. It is fenced with electrical wires, so there’s no way to leave once you enter inside. And then suddenly they started shouting [at] me and my colleagues, and the police was connived with them. The magistrate was present there but the magistrate was also bribed already, and he was supporting them and they all said that “There’s no child laborer here, no child slave here. Why did you enter this place illegally? This is a crime.” And they started shouting and the man took out the gun and put on my head. He was shouting in tremendous anger.
He would have done it. It’s a matter of a fraction of seconds, but the police officer was watching it and he stopped him, not to protect me. He said, “Oh, sir, what are you doing? The camera is running.” There was a video camera of a channel, one of India’s leading channels, Aaj Tak Hindi channel. Its name is Aaj Tak. So he said, “Look, you are creating evidence. What are you doing, sir?” So he looked at the camera and he jumped into the cameraman and started beating him. He ordered his people to kill me and my colleagues and they attacked badly with iron rods and everything. So my left foot was broken. My right shoulder was broken. I had serious injuries in the head and I was bleeding badly. And my son who went for the first time, Bhuwan, as a lawyer, and I took him to help me with some legal things because it was a complicated matter. The children were trafficked from Nepal and living in India as child laborers, child slaves, so it was a little difficult. But he was also beaten up badly and one of my colleagues. So three of us were lying on the streets in the pool of blood, and then the passersby took us in their car, there was a journalist who took us in their car and taken to a hospital.
Then I decided that I’m not going to drink or eat anything until all these girls who were already removed from that place are recovered. So doctors and everybody convinced me that “No, it’s not possible. You had heavy blood loss.” But I was determined so I set on the hunger fast and six years’ time my kidneys started failing, so it was another complication. And my son had serious injuries in his ribs and his number two and number three and he was lying on bad. And, and my daughter started getting threat calls. She was alone in Delhi because my wife, Sumedha has rushed to the place where this happened in Uttar Pradesh. So it was a big, big issue.
But thanks to the people like Senator Harkin, when I was still in the hospital, the very first day in two or three hours, he came to know because my people sent out the message and he called me up and he said, “Kailash, don’t worry. I’m there and I’m going to call the Indian Ambassador. I’m going to talk to other senators and congressmen.” And in a day, his office had been able to galvanize support of almost 40 congressmen and women demanding safety for my life because they said “He is not just an Indian citizen, he is a global citizen. He works for American children and children of the world. So we all are there.” And some communique was issued to the American Embassy in India to monitor the situation 24/7 and senior officers rushed to that place towards that situation.
On the other hand, the National Human Rights Commission of India took it very seriously and they sent their senior judges, so High Court has taken the note of it. Though after six days I was hospitalized forcibly and given injections and things like that. Then with the intervention of the court, within a few days, 24 girls were freed. Though we went to rescue only for only 12 girls because their parents were with us but double that were freed and it was a great success. One of the girls, Reid, I will tell you, told me later that when I was talking to other girls that, “Now you are free. You will go back home in Nepal and we will make sure that you go to school and you can live a normal life.” And the girl who was sitting in the distance 14, 15-year-old girl, she hated men. She does not want to see a man. Her mother told that she has been raped [multiple times] and abused and so on so she does not like any man. I did not speak to her. I did not insist on her to do anything. So after a while, she came from the back, taking the full round and put her hand on my shoulder – I heard that touch – and then she almost shouted angrily. She said, “You say that we can go to school, we are still children. I’m not a child!” So I hugged her and kissed her and I said, “My daughter, you are still a child. You are 14 years old. How could it be?” And then she hugged me like anything, embracing for several minutes and cried badly, so I found that her childhood had come back. Then we fought in the court and the Supreme Court also, and child labor in the circus industry is completely prohibited now. Nobody can employ child labor in any form in the circus industry.

Reid: Wow. That’s a great outcome. I’m so happy that those girls were rescued. You mentioned Senator Harkin and he became our champion for child labor issues and developed funding sources for child labor and that led to programs that the Department of Labor operates around the world to reduce child labor. How did your relationship with Senator Harkin develop and how did you help him to understand the scope of the problem?

Kailash: Well, I was talking with him yesterday, we had a good lunch. He’s like my older brother and an elderly person in my family. So my children, my wife, everybody loves and respects him like my older brother. So I met him for the first time – we were discussing with him yesterday what was the first day – it was in 1991. I was introduced by a U.S. Embassy officer in India. And “He told that you are fighting for this cause in India and you need some person to help you”, though he’s not working on child labor, he is very active on disabilities who is very active on farmworkers and so. He was a part of Martin Luther King Jr’s moment and he participated in it and so on so he’s a great guy. So I set up an appointment when I was coming to the U.S. for something else. I met with him in his office and this was a formal 15 minutes meeting but that went on for more than an hour. We had fallen in love with each other and he said, “No, Kailash, you cannot go now.” And he was telling his staff, “No, no, I wanted to continue.”
And then the next day, the third day, he gave a full speech in the senate about me. He gave a full speech, this is on record. And he said I wanted to put it on record that. He was so great. He was so humble. He’s a saintly man and he credited that “An Indian activist inspired me to work on this issue for all my life.” And I was so amazed at how it can trigger like that because he was already a great guy, and always my ally, and we worked very closely during the formation of IPEC program. The IPEC came very late. I mean, two or three years of after our meeting, and Germany was the first country to support AIPAC. With the help of Senator Harkin, it was possible that America became the biggest supporter of ILO-IPEC program. So the [ILAP 31:14] and there were times when there was serious threat to the funding to [ILAP 31:25] similarly to other international programs, including ILO but Senator Harkin and I worked together and found some ways how to continue this funding and we help to support all the programs in the world to fight child labor.
So it was like that always. He was also a champion when we organized the Global Match Against Child Labor. He strongly spoke and even gathered the support from President Clinton and President Clinton supported the march and joined. And then Senator Harkin was also one of the key architects here of my initiative Rugmark, which is now known as GoodWeave. So he was convinced and he has given several speeches in the Senate later on about the Rugmark, also, that this is some idea he liked, and he wanted to continue, and so on.
When I was attacked in this circus is when my daughter was in serious threat. Senator Harkin called my wife, my daughter and my son that they should stay here in Iowa for a few months or a few years. My wife and son did not agree, though my son came for a few days. But somehow, Senator Harkin convinced us that at least the daughter who was the youngest and most vulnerable and she was threatened with the same consequences of rape and killing as happened to other circus girls. So we agreed, and we made our daughter, Asmita agree. So she stayed in Iowa for about four years and also worked here at the Hill with Senator Harkin as an intern and so that was a great history with him.

Reid: He’s a remarkable man. I recall that we had a conference that his staff organized on child labor, and we brought in a 10-year-old farmworker child from Texas. He was going to testify about his experiences working in the field but the boy was so young and so nervous, that when we asked him, “What were the conditions like?,” he answered everything in one syllable, “Bad”. “How did it make you feel?” “Bad”. So it didn’t quite work the way we had hoped. But Harkin at the end of that panel, he went to the boy and said, “Have you seen Washington, DC yet?”, and the boy said, “No”, and Tom Harkin took him for three hours all around the city and gave him a tour of the Capitol and it was remarkable. A U.S. Senator to take that kind of time for a small child. You mentioned carpets and carpets are an interesting sector because there’s been a lot of progress in the carpet sector in India. Could you talk about that for a second?

Kailash: Not only in India but also across the world. Mainly in South Asia, which produces the largest quantity of carpets in the world, in Pakistan, Nepal as well. So when we launched the Carpet Consumers campaign, in 1990, in Germany and Europe and later on supported by many organizations. Child Labor Coalition was definitely on the forefront and International Labor Rights Fund at that time, now it’s International Labor Rights Forum. [inaudible 34:55] and definitely National Consumers League was one of our first partners and then AFL-CIO, Solidarity Center, organizations like that. Teachers unions both NEA and AFT. So, we were able to strongly launch this campaign to educate consumers with the demand that they should ask for child labor free carpets. As a result of the pressures generated from the consumers on all companies, importers in the Western world, importing countries, and also the exporters, manufacturers in source countries were under tremendous pressure. So this has helped in the reduction of child labor, but of course, we have to introduce a proper monitoring mechanism. It is a social voluntary mechanism and it is monitored and controlled by a multi-stakeholder group earlier named as Rugmark and now we know it as GoodWeave, so GoodWeave made lots of progress.
Then the U.S. Department of Labor did a study, I think in mid-late ‘90s and it was a big revelation that at least 1 million children were working there in child labor and most of them were child slaves or child trafficking victims. But the same source did other studies and other sources did studies and we are so proud to say that in less than 20 years’ time, the number has decreased from 1 million to hardly 200,000, even less, in the whole South Asian region, India, Pakistan, and Nepal. But the most important thing, Reid, is that not only is child labor reduced, but in place of children, adult people were able to find the jobs. And that has always been my argument without any study before. But of course, as an engineer, I could think that there is a correlation between child labor and adult unemployment and also [as] someone who was freeing children and talking to family members back in the ‘80s and found that their parents are jobless and the children are preferred, being the cheapest source of labor.
So I started advocating that there is a chicken and egg relationship between child labor and adult poverty or adult unemployment. Later on, the ILO picked it up the World Bank picked it up, others picked it up and they started doing more scientific studies. And then we brought another dimension of education, that if such a large number of children are working, then not only adults will remain jobless, or their parents could be those adults, but also the children will be denied education, which is the key for any kind of social justice, economic justice, growth, poverty reduction, and whatever. So, we did a very successful experiment in the carpet industry, in replacing children by able-bodied adults, and many of these adults are the parents or brothers, sisters of these children. So we have been able to create, through this process, at least 800,000 jobs for adult people in place of 800,000 children who were withdrawn from child labor.

Reid: And there were criticisms that the industry couldn’t survive without children but clearly it can and it’s thriving,

Kailash: Of course, it is thriving. And it is not just criticism. They considered me as an enemy and there were intelligence reports from Germany, from India, from America, that I could be assassinated in any of these places because importers, exporters, the whole strong industry felt that Kailash Satyarthi is their enemy number one. And later on, when Senator Harkin introduced the bill to stop the import of goods produced by children in Bangladesh, especially the garment industry, and later on the carpet industry, though this bill did not go through, Senator Harkin was again the political enemy for every country and it was quite a tough time.

Reid: We’re working with Representative Engel now on cocoa legislation to try to clean up the cocoa supply chain. So we’re hopeful that that will lead to some real changes too.

Kailash: Yes, that’s right. But when the International Cocoa Initiative was formed, I was one of the founding board members and a part of this protocol which has been signed with Ivory Coast and Ghana. I remained there for about 10 years before my Nobel Prize, but I was a part of this whole conversation right from its inception when this whole issue was exposed here in the U.S. how children are enslaved and working as child laborers in the cocoa industry. And again, I think it’s about 20 years by now, definitely 15 years.

Reid: You mentioned access to schools and I think that’s been a huge problem with our trying to reduce child labor. There just aren’t enough schools and quality teachers and you’ve made the point that it wouldn’t really cost that much to educate all of the world’s out of school children.

Kailash: Of course! It’s again an irony. I feel ashamed to talk about this thing again and again but this is an ugly truth that in many countries, the number of soldiers is four to five times the number of teachers. I’m not talking quality teachers, that number is even more minimal. We have more bullets than books, and toys in many of the Sub-Saharan African countries and the countries who are war-prone. So this is one scenario. But only $22 billion additional money is needed to ensure education for every child in primary schooling, $22 billion. And altogether $39 billion, say $40 billion annually for secondary education as well. So think of children below the age of 14 who are working as child laborers under the definition of, in many countries and also the ILO conventions definition, on the minimum age of employment, they require only $22 billion additional money for education. And what is this $22 billion? This is four and a half days of global military expenditure. Four and a half days. I am just trying to [make] the comparison.
What is our priority? Killing each other, death, bullets, guns, bombs, nuclear bombs? Is that our priority? Or enlightening children, empowering children with knowledge, with information, with education. Good quality education, good quality teachers are important. What is important? So it is a cruel statement of the growth of human civilization. We have not been able to set our priority that life is of a priority or death is a priority. How can’t we? And this is growing unfortunately, this warmongering and military expenditure is growing. And we are not able to take $22 billion or $40 billion altogether that is, again, seven days or one week of global military expenditure. But if you compare it with the tobacco, children are working in tobacco. A 12-year-old child cannot consume tobacco legally, it’s illegal

Reid: In the U.S., yeah.

Kailash: In the U.S., I’m talking about the U.S., and yet an eight-year-old child can work easily in tobacco fields. What is dangerous? So working there in these situations is much more dangerous. The dust, the chemicals and all kinds of things these children are consuming in the fields. So it’s a question of priority as I said, and that has to be set by all of us. We cannot keep ignoring it.

Reid: We’re almost out of time but I wanted to ask you, you’ve had great success in engaging large numbers of people in the campaign to reduce child labor. You talked about the Global March Against Child Labor. Can you say a few words about your latest campaign, the 100 Million campaign?

Kailash: Yes, I have a strong faith in young people because they are still cleaner in their hearts. They are full with energy and enthusiasm and idealism. If you’re not able to give them a purpose of life, a [recognition], a respect, a dignity, for children who are well off, I’m talking about the well-off children. If you are not able to give them respect and dignity and we are not able to create a space for them where they can wise out about their issues, which is not happening in most cases, that is resulting in erosion of that idealism, and growing frustration or disillusionment with the systems, looking at the political trends across the world. Then, where the fundamental value of democracy, plurality, humanity, freedom is being eroded. So the young people’s minds affect in that direction negatively, and that is already resulting in intolerance and violence among young people. That is well off children. So 100 million young people in the world are victims of violence, slavery, trafficking, child labor, worst forms of child labor – multiple, child marriages, denial of education.
On the other hand, we are so proud that 3 billion population of the world is below the age of 25 and 2.1 billion is below the age of 18. And they are not the problems. They should not be considered as problems. They are solutions and their voices are the most compelling and strongest and purest voices. So I launched a campaign called 100 Million for 100 million. So 100 million young people in the world should be the spokesperson and champions and take the driving seat for a better world. And to begin with those 100 million left out children. They should be the champions for them. So I’m so happy that it is growing very fast. In the last one and a half year, more than 30 countries are working on it, millions of young people joined in India and all across the world, at least in these 30 countries where we have launched the campaign officially and that is being done with the strong support of the teachers organizations, teachers unions basically and the workers unions, NGOs, Inter-Parliamentary Union. Inter-Parliamentary Union is the body of all parliaments of the world, so they are also our partners. So we are building the partnership this time mainly with the student groups, youth organizations, and they are leading. So the March For Life, for example, against the gun lobby in the U.S., I support it. I joined actually in one of the marches in Florida. I know that their idealism cannot be wasted, their anger has to be channelized in the construction of a non-violent, peaceful America and a peaceful world.

Reid: Are you hopeful that the next Kailash Satyarthi will emerge from the campaign?

Kailash: Many, many, yes. Those who have taken the lead in March For life, they are Kailash Satyarthi. I don’t know them personally, they may not [know] me personally, but I feel so proud watching them on television or listening to their names and so on.

Reid: Kailash, it’s been delightful to chat with you about these issues. They are very serious issues, but there is hopefulness. We’ve seen a lot of reduction in child labor thanks largely to your efforts and we look forward to partnering with you in the years to come.

Kailash: Thank you and I would tell young people especially then that this inertia has to go and this will go. You should sit in the driving seat. Don’t be frustrated in any time. Even in the dark times wise mentors don’t remain silenced because silence adds up to their darkness. If we cannot enlighten a candle, we should shout loudly that we believe in freedom, we believe in democracy, we believe in peace, we believe in justice and young people to raise their voices.

Reid: Thank you, Kailash.