Kailash, the other hero

10 October, 2014

This blog is authored by Monique Villa, CEO of the Thomson Reuters Foundation and founder of Trust Women.

It is thanks to Kailash Satyarthi that thousands of children have been saved from a life of slavery and agony in India. It is thanks to his organization, BBA -the ‘Save the Childhood Movement’ - that these children can regain trust in other human beings, the vital ingredient of life.

It was six months ago in New Delhi, in the gardens of the Imperial Hotel, that I first met Kailash. Sipping a cup of iced tea, he began telling me the story of two little boys he had just rescued. These newcomers were refusing to bond with the other children, sitting on the side, looking terrorized and suspicious. It was only days later, when another child got them to utter a few words that they said: “why are these people so kind to us? Do they want our eyes or our kidneys?” They could not imagine for a minute that someone would want to feed them and look after them without wanting to abuse them even more. That story touched my heart.

Imagine the kind of hell these children are coming from. They come from a place where children are beaten, abused, treated like a production tool and destroyed. It’s the parents who often give them away, conned by middlemen and a few rupees; but parents can also be abused by clerics, Kailash told me.

These children have been terrorized and dehumanized since their youngest age. How can they conceive a world where a child is respected and loved for nothing in return? The road to recovery is very long, and Kailash and his organization play a crucial role in this process. Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA) puts these children back on their feet, educates and trains them, makes them human again.

Today, along with Malala Yousafzai, the symbol of a new brave generation of girls, Kailash Satyarthi has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. It is with immense joy that I congratulate them both on behalf of the Thomson Reuters Foundation and the Trust Women movement. 

Kailash has dedicated over 30 years of his life to the fight against human trafficking. At the age of 26 he gave up a promising career as an electrical engineer to fight child slavery, a crime that affects millions of children across India.

That day in Delhi, Kailash told me the authorities were in total denial, they did not want to face the fact that children were  - and still are - regularly used as slaves. So, Kailash was accused of being a CIA and a Pakistani agent, and two of his colleagues were shot dead by traffickers. His has been a constant fight.

But Kailash managed to put child labor onto the global social and political agenda, using the strength that the rule of law gives him. He has brought many cases to the Indian Supreme Court, prompting some very important rulings that in turn helped him pursue his noble mission.

In 1998, he launched the Global March Against Child Labor, an umbrella organization which today groups together more than 2,000 NGOs and trade unions across 140 countries.

The year after, he created the South Asian Coalition against Child Servitude which includes countries such as Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh.

A great admirer of Mahatma Gandhi, Kailash has led dozens of peaceful protests again child labor while promoting the cause of universal education.  He has actively contributed to the rescue of 84,000 child slaves in three decades, while leading a national movement for the right to education in India, which resulted in the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act ratified in 2009.

This past May, Kailash’s organization led one of the largest joint rescue operations in India between anti-trafficking campaigners, railway police and child rights groups. As a result, 63 children were rescued and 23 traffickers were arrested.  

Human trafficking is one of the most odious crimes of our time. It is also a silent crime. Not many know that there are currently 30 million slaves worldwide, the highest number ever in history.

The Thomson Reuters Foundation is one of the organizations at the forefront of the battle against slavery and human trafficking through the actions taken at the Trust Women Conference. A few months ago, Kailash and I decided to use the platform of the Trust Women conference to launch the End Child Slavery Week campaign on November 19 to put the spotlight on the issue. His Nobel Prize has already achieved this.


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