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Corporate greed pulls kids into child labor: Nobelist Satyarthi

2014 Nobel Peace Prize winner Kailash Satyarthi

NEW DELHI -- Indian child rights crusader Kailash Satyarthi, who won the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize alongside Pakistani teenager Malala Yousafzai, told The Nikkei in an exclusive interview of the pressing global need to address the child labor problem, singling out employer greed as the biggest cause for child exploitation. He also spoke about initiating with Malala a campaign called "Peace for Children," which is aimed at ensuring children can live in a world free of conflict, war and terror.

     Excerpts from the interview follow.

Q: How does it feel to be honored with the Nobel Peace Prize, considering that even Mahatma Gandhi never received the award?

 A: It's the biggest ever recognition for hundreds of millions of children who have remained most deprived, most neglected and most exploited. The Nobel Committee has acknowledged their plight, their problems, their issues and their struggles. This is a great honor for all of them. I am a very, very ordinary person, and this award is an honor to all ordinary people in the world and in my country, and is dedicated to all the children of the world.

Q: Are the companies hiring kids responsible for the child labor problem, or is it the parents who force their kids to work?

A: The greed of the companies is the biggest pull factor for child labor. Push factors are poverty, ignorance, social discrimination, gender bias, and lack of opportunities, lack of basic amenities and lack of livelihood. But the pull factors include, first of all, the greediness of employers; secondly, employers look for the cheap docile labor, and children are the cheapest and the most docile labor.

     Parents and children have no option in such cases, so when the push factors and pull factors are combined together, children are the worst victims of this situation.

Q: What is the exact number of child laborers in India?  Official data says it is 4,350,000, while unofficial counts put the number almost 20 times higher.

 A: I don't know the exact number, but even if one single child is denied childhood, freedom and education, it's the curse on the face of any society. There must be no place for child slavery and child labor in any civilized society.

     Whatever may be the number of such cases, why don't we act now to liberate these children and ensure them the fullest of their rights, childhood and freedom and let them enjoy. Every single case of child labor is a challenge.

Q: What did you and Malala discuss during the phone call she made to you after learning of the joint award?

A: It was more of a courtesy call, as we have known each other for a long time. I've been working in Pakistan for many years, even before Malala was born. The main thing that I told her was that besides our ongoing independent and joint campaigns, we should work to create an environment, not only in both countries but globally, where no children are born in conflicts, wars, insurgencies and terror. Children should be given freedom, and freedom cannot come without peace, so let us work for "Peace for Children."

Q: Can the Nobel Committee's decision to award the prize to both you and Malala be seen as an attempt to promote harmony between India and Pakistan?

A: It could be an interpretation, definitely, because they have mentioned it, though there is not the slightest feeling in my mind which could divide humanity on the basis of religions, castes or even nations. The fundamental of Indian ethos lies in what we call "vasudev kutumbkam," which means the entire world is a family, the whole universe is a family.

     This family does not only include human beings, but also the plants, the animals, the mountains, the rivers, the sun, the moon, the air -- they are all part of our bigger family, and we have to protect them and care for them. That is the essence of my own personal character. For me, there's nothing like India-Pakistan, Hindu-Muslim, etc. But the political reality is that we are two countries and we have to work in both for peace.

Q: Is child labor contributing to the economic development of emerging nations?

A: It would be a shame if anything on this planet, right from crops to computers, is produced at the cost of childhood, freedom of children and their education. I think it is unacceptable.

Q: How was your meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi? Did you invite him to Oslo for the Dec. 10 awards ceremony?

A: We had a very exciting and very encouraging meeting. As far as inviting the prime minister for the Oslo ceremony is concerned, it has to be his Norwegian counterpart who should invite him. I have big respect for the wish of Malala, who told me that I should convey to the Indian prime minister that he should make it to Oslo, but it is beyond my capacity. I wish that her wish is fulfilled.

Q: What role can Japan play in the fight against child labor?

A: Japan is a very important country. I have been to Japan many times. I have worked and I am still working with a number of individuals and groups in Japan. I am the founder of the Global Campaign for Education, and in that capacity, I tried to build actions and campaigns for education in Japan as well. I have been to places like Minamata, where many years ago, this disaster took place -- I met the people, the victims and the sufferers. I have been to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and these visits gave me a strong belief that destruction can be changed upside down into progress, development and construction if you have conviction, if you have clarity -- and Japan has proven it.

Interviewed by Nikkei staff writer Kiran Sharma


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