Internationally 12 June is marked as the World Day Against Child Labor which ensures that the global community remains engaged and focused on abolishing child labor.
Today, it is expected that the ILO convention 182 which concerns prohibition and immediate action for the elimination of the worst forms of child labour, known in short as the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention will be ratified by the Labour Ministry of India.
Now you must be wondering how does this happen? Who is behind this? Answers to your questions are here:
Children participating in a peaceful protest against the use of child labour in factories with Mr Satyarthi, circa 1980
Sometimes, the sheer scale of the task made him wonder if his passion and ambition had run away from the humdrum life of daily obstacles and frustrating walls of apathy, ignorance, truculence and even intolerance. Sometimes, like when he was actually and physically signing twenty-five thousand letters that would go out to all corners of the world, he wondered if it could all work. But for 43-year-old Kailash Satyarthi in 1997, the Global March Against Child Labor, it was just a matter of passion and dogged persistence vanquishing all barriers.
India was celebrating 50 years of independence in 1997. But Satyarthi was busy chasing more dreams of freedom. To bring ‘World Day against Child Labor’ and ILO Convention 182 in practice – the Global March movement by Bachpan Bachao Andolan’s founder Kailash Satyarthi and his partners took place with the participation of more than 2000 delegates, including labor ministers from 150 countries and 600 children. The march ended in 1998 after covering 80,000 kms.
Post the march across the world, he and his team won a historic victory in 1998 when the International Labor Organization (ILO) passed convention 182 that prohibits child slavery, bonded child labor and all forms of exploitation of children as workers. This has proven to be fastest ratified convention by members countries in the history of the ILO.
As he recollects those heady days of hope and optimism, Satyarthi said, “Just thinking about those electrifying moments of June 6, 1998, fills me up with recharged energy and determination. It was indeed a life defining moment. About 600 of us, led by children marched inside the imposing hall where ministers and high officials of more than 150 countries had gathered for the annual ILO gathering. The security staff gazed in wonder as the motley crowd marched inside with posters and banners with children chanting impassioned slogans asking for an immediate halt to child labor. Leading us all was a 14-year-old boy Khokhan who had lost a leg during his childhood. The sound and spectacle of 2,000 delegates giving a standing ovation to us still deeply resonates.”
The Global March was launched to also fight and change this mindset. Make no mistake, even though Satyarthi and his colleagues demur, the March was arguably more successful than the global forays of many a multinational. In those days, social media was non-existent. The Internet and the mobile phone were available only in rich countries or to the rich in third world countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America. And yet, Satyarthi and his team had to launch a globally coordinated effort. That is why he smiles at the memory of physically signing 25,000 letters.
The 1998, Global March against Child Labour travelled across 103 countries and 80,000 Kilometres. Here, in the African Subcontinent.
Apart from his other laudable contributions, it is this gigantic leap of faith and coordinated, action-oriented activism that resulted in Kailash Satyarthi was given the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014.
A map of the world was placed and countries and cities identified painstakingly. Thousands of organizations pitched with help and participation. When the March began in Manila, the Philippines on January 17, 2017, children and activists from every continent took part. That was the first leg. The second leg began in Sau Paulo in Brazil while the third leg started in Capetown in South Africa. In all, more than 80,000 kilometers was covered during the march. More than 1.5 million people participated and more than seven hundred thousand participants left their support in the form of footprints which were transported by trucks to Geneva. If there were an equivalent of a Harvard Business School for meaningful activism, the Global March would be the most discussed study of how globalization can transcend profits and work for positive change.
The Global March that culminated in Geneva on June 6, 1998, was indeed a historic milestone. Apart from the convention 182, it also prompted the global community to declare June 12 as a day to mark the fight against child labor. But it was not a destination. This March saw the direct involvement and participation of more than 1.5 million people from across the world. Another big milestone was marked in 2007 when Satyarthi led a Global March against Child Trafficking. This one saw the number of participants swell to about 23 million. And now, in 2017, Satyarthi is getting ready for the most ambitious of them all which will begin in August. This will be 100 million global citizens marching for a better future for 100 million children.
This time around, all modern tools of communication including social media are available. And the organization led by Satyarthi has grown bigger and more ambitious. But the task remains daunting. Satyarthi knows that the complete elimination of child abuse may remain an elusive idea and ideal. But every child saved from trafficking or bonded labor and every poor child getting a decent education is a blessing for him. In these times of cynicism and faux outrage over every issue, perhaps it would be wise to draw some lessons from the life and times of Satyarthi.
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