Global March Against Child Labour: From Exploitation to Education
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Global March Against Child Labour - From Exploitation to Education

A Tale of Two Jihads

Nileen Putatunda (Featured in The Pioneer, OpEd, July 5, 2005)

We live in a world with myriad forms of terror. There are a billion people on earth fighting daily for their survival. The world has committed, in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), to cut extreme poverty by half by 2015. However, the superpowers of the planet are all so caught up in the ‘international fight against terror’ that their commitment has not translated into action. The U.S. spends just 0.15% of its national income on aid, while devoting nearly 5% to the military. Its perception of terror is an exclusive, corridor-kind, that bombs buildings, buses and babies. Its (blinding) astigmatism stops it from recognising the less graphic and more insidious strains that pervade much of the developing world. The G 8 summit to be held at Gleneagles Hotel, Scotland, in July will present itself to the developed world as a spectacle with which to expiate. Tony Blair will need to convince his companion George Bush that the U.S. military alone will never secure a world riddled with hunger, disease and deprivation. If the U.S. and a united Europe honour their long-standing, yet long-neglected, pledge of 0.7% of GNP, then the impoverished people on the planet ‘’will roll up their sleeves and get to work saving themselves and their families, and ultimately helping to save all of the rest of us as well”, as Professor Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University puts it.

However, far from the highlands of Scotland and many moons ago, began a story of revolution penned by a visionary, Sanjit ‘Bunker’ Roy, who founded the Barefoot College in Tilonia, in the Ajmer district of Rajasthan, in 1972. The College addresses problems of drinking water, girl education, health and sanitation, rural unemployment, income generation, electricity and power, as well as social awareness and the conservation of ecological systems in rural communities. It was entirely built by local people and benefits the poorest of the poor who have no alternatives. The campus has a 700,000 litre rainwater harvesting tank and is completely solar-electrified.

The Barefoot College is a place of learning and unlearning. It's a place where the teacher is the learner and vice versa. It's a place where NO degrees and certificates are given because in development there are no experts - only resource persons. It's a place where people are encouraged to make mistakes so that they can learn humility, curiosity, the courage to take risks, to innovate, to improvise and to constantly experiment. It's a place where all are treated as equals and there is no hierarchy.

So long as the process leads to the welfare of all; so long as problems of discrimination, injustice, exploitation and inequalities are addressed directly or indirectly; so long as the poor, the deprived and the dispossessed feel it’s a place they can talk, be heard with dignity and respect, be trained and be given the tools and the skills to improve their own lives, the immediate relevance of the Barefoot College to the global poor will always be there.

A few years after Bunker Roy’s foresight began changing our planet, emerged another man of prophetic vision, Kailash Satyarthi. Recognising that children who have been robbed of their sacred smiles could develop traumatized minds incapable of keeping pace with another world whose honey and milk-sipping children would grow up to push the frontiers of technological advancement, crafting a diabolical frustration that might be the undoing of all progress, he founded Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA) / South Asian Coalition On Child Servitude (SACCS) in 1980. BBA / SACCS has grown into a full-blown movement with a network of over 750 NGOs, Trade Unions, Human Rights Organisations, in addition to thousands of individual supporters, dedicated towards the total elimination of child labour, and for free and quality education to all.

BBA / SACCS is known for its sparkling initiative including raid and rescue operations, advocacy and mass mobilisation campaigns, among others. Its efforts have led to the rescue of over 65,000 persons from bondage with the help of the judiciary and the National Human Rights Commission. BBA is also working towards developing a child-friendly society, where the first and foremost step is the creation of child-friendly villages, Bal Mitra Grams (BMGs). The uniqueness of the BMG initiative lies in active participation of village children in creating a legitimate democratic space for themselves in panchayats, communities, schools and families. BMG is thus, the true translation of child rights at the grass-roots level.

On the international front, BBA initiated the Global March Against Child Labour (GMACL) in 1998, which has now blossomed into one of the leading civil society initiatives in the world in defence of child rights with more than 2000 partners in over 140 countries. GMACL was instrumental in getting the International Labour Organisation (ILO) to adopt Convention 182, which is against the ‘Worst Forms of Child Labour’, in 1999.

If Swami Vivekananda were alive today, he would have been proud of Mr. Bunker Roy and Mr. Kailash Satyarthi. Mr. Tony Blair and Mr. George Bush would do well to learn from these two masters. “So long as the millions live in hunger and ignorance, I hold every man a traitor who, having been educated at their expense, pays not the least heed to them.”


Global March Against Child Labour - From Exploitation to Education

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