NEW DELHI, INDIA, March 1995 (by Rajiv Malik): Note: Hinduism Today did a lengthy article on Kailash Satyarthi and his work nearly 20 years ago. Following is a summary. The full article can be accessed as “source” above. This was, btw, only the second article done for the magazine by our now long-time Indian correspondent, Rajiv Malik, one which required him to go undercover as he investigated companies using child labor.
All the religions of the world unequivocally recognize children as the most marvelous of God’s creations. Yet the painful truth is that about 200 million children continue to languish in workplaces all over the globe. India alone accounts for a whopping 55 million-80% Hindus, and nearly all lower caste. The main industries employing children, some as young as four, are farming, stone quarries, construction, carpet weaving, glass making, match and fireworks, handloom, gem polishing and lock assembly. All are known to damage the health of children, causing lung, eye and skin diseases. Explosions in match and fireworks factories have killed and injured many. Such employment is in open violation of Article 32 of the UN Convention, “The Rights of the Child,” which protects children from work “likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child’s education, or be harmful to the child’s physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development.”
Kailash Satyarthi, Chairman of the South Asian Coalition on Child Servitude, is one of the leading activists struggling for the betterment of working children and the rescue and release of bonded child labor. According to him, a rough count of the number of working children below age 14 (the legal limit) in India is 110 to 120 million. However, half this number is classified as assisting their parents or relatives. The rest are children whose parents feel forced to put to work.
It was a first-hand experience that set Kailash Satyarthi on his life’s mission. “Near my house,” he relates, “there was a small shop of a shoemaker. I was young. All the children I knew went to school, except the shoemaker’s son. One day I approached the boy’s father and asked him why he was not sending his son to school. The cobbler explained to me that as he was poor he could not afford his son’s going to school. Now this incident touched me a lot. Somewhere in my heart I decided then and there that I was going to work for the betterment of such children who are deprived of their childhood due to poverty, illiteracy and other such reasons. I went on to become an electrical engineer, but I was dissatisfied. In 1980 I quit and dedicated myself fully to this mission-abolition of child labor from India.”