* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The deep moral deficit in society is manifest in the lack of political will, and minimal or no sense of urgency in ending modern slavery
Our world is on the brink of a peculiar paradox that raises fundamental questions about our commitment to ethics, morals and a more compassionate global order. On the one hand, rapid advances in science and technology are offering exciting new solutions to age old problems like hunger, poverty, ill health and lack of access to education and livelihood opportunities. On the other, we continue to fail in the simple task of protecting our children from violence, abuse and trafficking.
The deep moral deficit in society is manifest in the lack of political will, and minimal or no sense of urgency and priority in mitigating and addressing the issue.
Just a quick look at some numbers reveals the enormity of the challenge we face. More than 40 million people, most of them children and youth are victims of modern slavery. Over 150 million children are still forced to work. And more than 260 million children are being denied their fundamental right to education at the primary and secondary levels.
A systemic change is the need of the hour to address this grave situation. To bring about this change, every stakeholder, be it political parties and policy makers, key influencers, the development sector, industries and the citizens, needs to take ownership of this grave issue and take action to address it.
An urgent and collective global effort is the need of the hour to bring about this systemic change. If such a movement does not take off, we will condemn another generation to poverty and destitution. Second, the SDG goals for 2030 set by the United Nations will remain a pipe dream. Yet, steps are being taken all over the world, and I remain hopeful and optimistic that global efforts are moving steadily from the realms of rhetoric to real action.
Laureates and leaders for children
One such movement is the Laureates and Leaders which we launched in December 2016 in Delhi. Laureates & Leaders is a movement led by Nobel Laureates, world leaders and influential thinkers that seeks concrete and grassroots solutions to the problems that deny children their fundamental rights to education, health and freedom. This movement is committed to creating a strong moral voice that cannot be ignored by any government or inter-governmental agency.
The Delhi summit led to the launch of the 100 Million for 100 Million Campaign where 100 million youth from privileged backgrounds are nurtured and inspired to partner with 100 million children from less privileged backgrounds to find solutions. This campaign has already made a visible difference in more than a dozen countries since it was launched. A significant impact of the summit has been that, for the first time, there has been inclusion of children’s related issues – trafficking, labour etc. in the last G20 outcomes. This agenda was pushed by OECD.
The second Summit of Laureates & Leaders For Children is being organized on 26th and 27th March 2018 on the banks of the Dead Sea in Jordan and is a reaffirmation of collective global action. This time, the theme of the Summit is Children on the Move.
Children have become the most vulnerable victims in recent times. Civil wars, conflicts, natural and man-made disasters have not only killed millions, but also rendered millions of children homeless. Shockingly, there has been a five-fold increase in the number of orphaned or unaccompanied children who have moved as refugees. Jordan, where this Summit is being organized, has over 6,50,000 refugees registered with the UNHCR.
The actual number of refugees is more than 1.3 million. Orphaned child refugees have become a common sight in many countries in the region. This has led to a significant increase in trafficking which has become the largest organized crime in the world with annual revenues estimated at $ 150 billion. Even children who are fortunate not to be trafficked stare at a bleak future with no access to proper education and healthcare.
Call for action
Laureates & Leaders is determined to push an agenda of concrete solutions that will help save an entire generation of children. Many of us have been advocating more cooperation between various international agencies like UNHCR, IOM and UNICEF. This must now be formalized through a global convention at the United Nations. There have been some measures taken by rich countries of the OECD to contribute more by way of financial resources to help us achieved the SDG goals, particularly related to universal education of children.
Clearly, much more needs to be done, and in an organized manner. We have been advocating for a global agency on the lines of Interpol to confront and defeat organized trafficking gangs that prey upon children. This agency can use modern technology to maintain and update records that can be shared across the world. Equally important, just as financial institutions across the world now cooperate actively to block access to terrorists and their funding organizations, they must work together to choke trafficking gangs.
Above all, we need to keep using the power of mass movements and awareness campaigns to persuade law makers in countries to enact specific laws that protect children. For instance, I led the Bharat Yatra against child sexual abuse and trafficking in September 2017 that travelled 12,000 kilometers across 22 states of India. More than 10 million Indians raised their voices against this evil. I am happy that a strong anti-trafficking law is being presented in the Parliament. We need more such movements to ensure that the issue of child rights becomes a part of mainstream discourse rather than being confined to activism.
For some cynics, "every child matters" may sound like a cliche. For optimists like me, I know it can be done, if each one of us does our bit. If we come together, we can create a world where every child lives freely with dignity. For me, it is a dream that we can realize together.
Kailash Satyarthi is an Indian children's rights activist. He is a Nobel Peace Prize recipient and the founder of Bachpan Bachao Andolan, the Kailash Satyarthi Children’s Foundation, Global March Against Child Labour, and GoodWeave International.