‘Freedom for kids will not come on a platter’

- December 13, 2018
| By : Shruti Das |

A documentary on the life and work of Nobel Peace Prize recipient Kailash Satyarthi aims to sensitise and inspire citizens about child slavery Even at the age of 64, he willingly takes part in life-threatening raids to save children from slavery. He was beaten up, nearly to death, on a few occasions. His home was […]

A documentary on the life and work of Nobel Peace Prize recipient Kailash Satyarthi aims to sensitise and inspire citizens about child slavery

Even at the age of 64, he willingly takes part in life-threatening raids to save children from slavery. He was beaten up, nearly to death, on a few occasions. His home was plundered, his office ransacked, his family threatened – but nothing could deter him. It has been more than 40 years, and his battle against child labour continues. Such is the life story of Kailash Satyarthi.

Born in a small town of Madhya Pradesh, Satyarthi gave up his job as an electrical engineer to work for this cause. To date, he and his team Bachpan Bachao Andolan has liberated more than 88,000 children from trafficking, slavery and labour. In 2014, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize “for the struggle against the suppression of children, young people and for the right of all children to education.”

“I have always believed that someone will have to pay the price of freedom for the most marginalised children. It won’t come served on a platter. I feel humbled to be able to empower the children,” says Satyarthi, the man whose life and work has been captured in filmmaker Derek Doneen’s documentary The Price of Free. The film has already received top honours at the Sundance Film Festival. In conversation with Patriot, he talks about his documentary, his 100 million for 100 million campaign, his future plans and more.

What has been the response to The Price of Free?
I am happy to state that I have been to several countries for its screening and the response has been overwhelming. People are more resolute than ever to do their bit for the most vulnerable children of this world. Recently I was at Doha for the Ajyal Film Festival where the film was screened for the 600 jurors who happened to be children and youth in the age group 8-21 years. The energy and commitment for their not-so-privileged counterparts that I saw on their faces was so reassuring.

Children are the subject of this film and I am very happy that the message that it gives to everybody to stand up for the rights of children has come out loud and clear – a fact that is clearly established by almost 5 million views it has been able to garner within 10 days of its release on YouTube.

As an anthem of inspiration, the documentary calls on everybody to look inside for motivation to be heroes for the most marginalised children, who for some reason may have been left out today, but in no way are any less deserving of a future that is bright and promising.

A vast majority of population on the Internet are youth. It is very fascinating to read their responses. One of them has called the film ‘the most innovative way to learn about the social issue’ and has sought support for the foundation fighting against child exploitation. Another youngster on the channel rued about Indians having normalised child labour. One of them has asked why our country is not taking immediate steps to end child labour.

The most satisfying feeling is that youth are asking questions about child slavery to the governments and the film is doing its bit in spreading awareness about the issue.

What were the challenges faced while shooting for the film?
The film project started around three years back when producer Davis Guggenheim, who won an Oscar for The Inconvenient Truth, approached me for a film on my life and work. He had attended the Nobel Prize ceremony in 2014 and fell in love with the subject. Guggenheim’s team led by director Derek Doneen, followed me and my colleagues for nearly two-and-a-half years to observe our work.

The filmmakers took up the challenging task of shooting the film during our live raids. While my colleagues and I continued with our operations to rescue the child slaves from traffickers with the help of law enforcement agencies, the film crew continued with their shooting. Shooting a live raid, I am sure, was very challenging but the makers came out with something that has never been done in the past. Each and every raid that has been documented in the film is LIVE and unique. Every scene shows the real agony the children endure as slaves.

Initially, people thought it is a biopic, and was to be named Kailash. But the documentary focuses more on your work and fight to eradicate child labour. Was it a conscious effort to focus more on the issue, rather than putting the spotlight on you?
This film is a slice from my life and work. It is certainly not a biopic. The award-winning documentary brings to the fore the plight of children trapped in slavery. The cause of children can never be alienated from my life, so the film does show some important events in my fight of over forty years to end violence against children. The Price of Free is a humble tribute to my colleagues Dhoomdas, Adarsh Kishore and Kalu Kumar who gave the supreme sacrifice in the line of duty, selflessly fighting for children’s rights till their last breath.

We come to know about the 100 million for 100 million campaign through the documentary. Tell us a little about it.
I launched 100 million for 100 million campaign in the year 2016 in an endeavor wherein 100 million privileged youths and children world over stand together with their 100 million not-so-privileged peers and support their efforts to move from slavery, danger, violence and despair to freedom, safety, peace and hope. This will make this world much better and will ensure equal opportunity for all.

What action do you think the government, as well as the society, should take to help eradicate child slavery from its root?
The government needs to be sensitised about the plight of enslaved children. Even one child trapped in slavery is one too many. The first and the foremost step that lawmakers should take is to embrace compassion for children and keep them in mind while making laws and policies.

Law enforcement agencies must effectively implement the laws protecting children from slavery and ensure their freedom, safety and education.

Perpetrators of violence against children must be brought to book and the survivors should be given access to justice and rehabilitation so that they are reintegrated into the mainstream society and can get on with their lives. Honesty of intent is good, honesty of purpose is better, honesty of action is best but the real transformation is possible only through honesty in collective commitment and compassion.

What is your future plan of action?
I have been building a global movement for a legally binding UN convention and response mechanism against online child sexual abuse and pornography which has snowballed to a $8 billion industry. In this regard, I have been meeting all stakeholders irrespective of caste, creed, religion, ethnicity, political affinity and nationality.

Notably, the Indian government banned 857 pornographic websites in October following the demand I had made at Nagpur for ending online child sexual abuse and child pornography. Our government has also launched a portal catering to complaints pertaining to online child pornography, child sexual abuse material or sexually explicit content such as rape/gangrape (CP/RGR).

I have been meeting heads of states, top leadership of UN agencies, businesses, OECD and Faith with my demand and all of them have been extremely forthcoming in my endeavour for the legally binding international law. A dedicated international toll-free helpline for reporting cases related to online child sexual abuse under the supervision of International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol) or any other relevant agency will also be critical for this international law.

Recently, I met Pope Francis and he extended full support of the Vatican to see this through to fruition. Chancellor Angela Merkel from Germany and Her Highness Sheikha Moza from Qatar have also expressed their firm commitment to mobilise political support towards the demand for a new international law. I have also been meeting faith leaders at the global level for a pluralising my demand for such a law. I am very hopeful that this law will become a reality in the foreseeable future.