BY CONFERRING THE NOBEL PRIZE ON MALALA AND I, THE NOBEL COMMITTEE HAS RECOGNISED ONE OF THE MOST PRESSING YET NEGLECTED ISSUES OF OUR TIMES. MILLIONS OF CHILDREN STILL REMAIN INVISIBLE, VOICELESS AND UNHEARD. DURING THE LAST FEW WEEKS, THEIR SUFFERING HAS GOT UNPRECEDENTED ATTENTION BY THE LAW MAKERS, JUDICIARY AND CIVIL SOCIETY NOT ONLY IN INDIA BUT WORLDWIDE.
Childhood protected and nurtured will yield superior global human capital, while wasted childhood will erode all prospects of a promising tomorrow. Our tomorrow will be as good or as bad as how and what we do about our children today!!!
It is impossible to script global growth leaving behind those 168 million children across the world who are losing their precious childhood to child labour, out of which 85 million are in hazardous occupations that leave them scarred for life, completely dilapidating their physical, cognitive, moral and social wellbeing besides denying their universal right to education. What can be expected of a child who does not get an education, continues to do repetitive unskillful tasks and grows up into an adult without any value-addition? These child labourers inadvertently enter the vicious circle of illiteracy, poverty and child labour, which I term as the “Triangular Paradigm.” Thus child labour and poverty are both cause and consequence of each other. It is impossible to eliminate one without eliminating the other. Look at the painful paradox that while there are 168 million child labourers world over there are around 200 million adults worldwide who are jobless. They are the very parents of these child labourers. It won’t be an exaggeration to say that child labour is the biggest travesty and scandal of our times.
No prizes for guessing that child labourers are preferred over adults because they are docile, they do not demand minimum wages, they cannot unionise and they work for endless hours as slaves and at times fall easy victims of sexual exploitation at the hands of their employers. Today, child labourers can be found from farms to mines and factories to homes. Therefore, child labour is as much an issue in the developed countries as it is in the developing. Denial of education and freedom is violence against children.
The battle against child labour can only be won by the weapons of 6 E’s: (i) Education (ii) Employability (iii) Entrepreneurship (iv) Efficiency (v) Equity (vi) Ethics.
I cannot emphasise enough the importance of education that gives meaning and direction to life. Education is a perfect antidote for child labour. Children at school form the very foundation of a sustainable and prosperous society. It has been proved beyond reasonable doubts that a single year of primary school increases the wages people earn later in life by 5-15% for boys and even more for girls. For each additional year of secondary school, an individual’s wages increase by 15-25%. Furthermore, according to World Literacy Foundation “no country has ever achieved continuous and rapid economic growth without first having at least 40% of its adults able to read and write.”
The second weapon of employability is no less important and should be seen as a logical culmination of the global education system coupled up with an eclectic balance of vocational and life skills. Education that cannot guarantee employment is very much like a boat without a rudder. Unemployment fuels economic instability and intolerance that can render the youth amok.
Thirdly, entrepreneurship is at the helm of job creation for adults and is an important element for accomplishing the decent work agenda. Entrepreneurship in fact is the prime mover of the global economy.
As an electrical engineer, I draw a clear analogy between minimising transmission loss and increasing the efficiency proportionately. Governments world over will have to be efficient for creating child friendly policies with a sense of utmost urgency and thereafter ensure effective implementation of the same. The governments must give due respect to the trade union movement so that rights to collective bargaining and freedom of association are not jeopardised.
One must not forget that if the adults are not enjoying their fundamental rights at work or are unemployed, they, in all likelihood, would send their children to work. Corporations would have to work out innovative and efficient solutions to ensure that there are no child/human/labour rights violations in their supply chains. Civil society must efficiently extend all support to governments and corporations in the collective endeavour to uphold the best interest of all children.
Equity and egalitarianism is the fulcrum of a just, peaceful and humane society. Every global citizen must be given the due and fair share as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is the responsibility of each and every stakeholder to work towards infusing equity in the society.
Last but not the least, ‘ethic’ is the fluid that polishes and sharpens all the five weapons that I have mentioned above. One cannot run away or hide from one’s soul. Transparent, accountable and responsible behaviour by governments, corporations, civil society and global citizens can make this world a much better and safer place for all children.
It is completely up to us as to how we use these six weapons for the betterment of our children. I am absolutely sure that if used prudently and with a heart that brims with love for the children, a child friendly world is definitely within our reach. Let’s make it a reality.