GOOD CAUSE: Kailash Satyarthi at the match, attended by scores of supporters


SATYARTHI LAUNCHES BID TO STOP SEXUAL ABUSE AND TRAFFICKING

INDIAN Nobel peace laureate Kailash Satyarthi on Monday (11) started a cross-country march aimed at forcing authorities to clamp down on the wide­spread sexual abuse and trafficking of vulnerable children.

Satyarthi and scores of supporters em­barked on the “India March” at Kanyaku­mari on the country’s southernmost tip. He hopes to get one million people in­volved in various stages of the march to New Delhi.

“If our children are not safe in India, if our children are not safe in schools, then we have to change it,” 63-year-old Sat­yarthi said. “We cannot just wait and watch. One cannot be a silent spectator,” he said, calling child sexual abuse a “growing menace, a growing epidemic”.

The march will finish in New Delhi on October 16 after he and his supporters travel across all 29 states and seven union territo­ries, covering 11,000 km (6,835 miles).

More than 9,000 children were report­ed to have been trafficked in 2016, a 27 per cent rise from the previous year, ac­cording to the Ministry of Women and Child Development.

Figures from the National Crime Re­cords Bureau also show that almost 15,000 children were victims of sexual violence such as rape, molestation and exploitation for pornography in 2015 – up 67 per cent from the previous year.

But those figures may only be the tip of the iceberg, with experts saying the gov­ernment underestimates the numbers in a country where a shroud of silence sur­rounds such crimes.

Satyarthi, 63, has been at the forefront of the drive against child labour in India, where over 10 million children are en­gaged in work, according to UNICEF.

He blames India’s “failed” law enforce­ment, weak prosecution and low convic­tion rates for their plight, and founded Bachpan Bachao Andolan (Movement to Save Childhood) to rescue children work­ing in horrifying conditions.

His teams often stage dangerous dawn raids on mills, dank mines and factories – many manned by armed guards – which employ children. Satyarthi said his social conscience was awoken when he was about five years old and saw a boy his age outside a school, cleaning shoes.

In 1980 he quit his job as an electrical engineer to take up the cudgels on behalf of India’s most vulnerable citizens. In 2014 Satyarthi jointly won the Nobel Peace Prize with Pakistani child activist Malala Yousafzai.

But his efforts have come at a price. He has been beaten up and faced death threats and attempts at incarceration. Two of his colleagues were murdered.

“Of course, it was very dangerous,” he said. “I have injuries and scars all over my body. My left foot has been broken, my ribs have been broken, my shoulder is broken and I cannot raise it. But nothing can stop me.”

He proudly says his movement has liberated 86,000 children from bonded labour across India and has activist net­works in more than 140 countries.

In the 1990s he organised the Global March Against Child Labour, an interna­tional coalition of groups aiming to free millions of children from slavery worldwide.

“Earlier I fought against child slavery and child labour. Now I’m waging this war against rape and sexual abuse,” he said. “This is not some other person’s problem. This is your problem. It can happen with anyone, anywhere.” (AFP, Reuters)