Interview by Nilima Jahan.
Kailash Satyarthi, an Indian social reformer who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize jointly with Malala Yousafzai in 2014, talks to the Star about the global child rights situation during his visit to Bangladesh on January 14-18.
TDS: What is the global situation on child rights today? Has Covid-19 worsened the situation dramatically, especially in South Asia?
Kailash: Whenever there is any war, insurgency, mass violence, natural disaster, pandemic or any such crisis, the children have to pay the heaviest price. The Covid-19 pandemic was not only a health or economic crisis, but it has also proven to be a crisis of childhood and education.
For almost a year and half, 1.6 billion children were unable to attend school and nearly 40 percent of them had no access to online education due to the digital divide. Children in comparatively well-off conditions, living in cities and towns, suffered differently — with psychological trauma, depression, alienation and loneliness, being unable to socialise with their peers and teachers. But those who belong to the poor and marginalised families across the world suffered more. Especially in most developing countries, the pandemic exacerbated child slavery, trafficking, child marriage, and denials of education, along with other injustices and inequalities.
Although child labour decreased from 250 million in the year 2000 to 150 million in 2016, it unfortunately increased again by 10 million between 2016 and 2020, especially in a period when the world became $10 trillion richer. Africa faced the most serious consequences at that time, when tens of thousands of children had been pushed into child labour. After the pandemic, an estimated nine to 10 million children worldwide had already been added. Although there is no separate data on South Asian countries, the people there suffered the most and invested a big chunk of their resources in fighting the health and financial crisis, for which they cannot be blamed. Rather, it was the collective responsibility of the international community, particularly the rich countries, to support them.
The developing countries suffered not only because of the pandemic but also because of global apathy, and economic and geopolitical injustice. For example, in the middle of the pandemic, the international Group of Seven, popularly known as G7 countries, launched a new fund called the “Global Agenda of Action” for Covid-19. Though it was meant to support the marginalised people of developing countries, out of $12 trillion, only 0.13 percent had been disbursed to developing nations.
Additionally, the IMF approved the historic $650 billion for the global liquidity crisis, from which the developing countries should have gotten a fair share. However, from that money, a European child on average received $2,000, while an African child could benefit only with $60.