Published in The Ploughshares Monitor Volume 36 Issue 1 Spring 2015
Kailash Satyarthi is the architect of the Global March against Child Labor. He founded or led the Global Campaign for Education and Goodweave. He is the Chair of the International Center on Child Labor and Education. The co-winner of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize, he delivered the complete version of this edited lecture in Oslo on December 10, 2014.
I refuse to accept that all the temples and mosques and churches and prayer houses have no place for the dreams of our children. I refuse to accept that the world is so poor, when just one week of global spending on armies is enough to bring all of our children into classrooms. I refuse to accept that all the laws and constitutions, and the judges and the police are not able to protect our children. I refuse to accept that the shackles of slavery can ever be stronger than the quest for freedom.
I REFUSE TO ACCEPT.
I am privileged to work with many courageous souls who also refuse to accept. We have never given up against any threat and attack, and we will never. Undoubtedly, progress has been made in the last couple of decades. The number of out-of-school children has been halved. Child mortality and malnutrition have been reduced, and millions of child deaths have been prevented. The number of child labourers in the world has been reduced by a third. Make no mistake, great challenges still remain.
Friends, the biggest crisis knocking on the doors of humanity today is intolerance.
We have utterly failed in imparting an education to our children. An education that gives the meaning and objective of life and a secure future. An education that builds a sense of global citizenship among the young people. I am afraid that the day is not far when the cumulative result of this failure will culminate in unprecedented violence that will be suicidal for humankind.
Yet, young people like Malala are rising up everywhere and choosing peace over violence, tolerance over extremism, and courage over fear.
Solutions are not found only in the deliberations in conferences and prescriptions from a distance. They lie in small groups and local organizations and individuals, who confront the problem every day, even if they remain unrecognized and unknown to the world.
Eighteen years ago, millions of my brothers and sisters in 103 countries marched across 80,000 kilometres. And a new international law against child labour was born. We have done this.
You and I live in the age of rapid globalization. We are connected through high-speed Internet. We exchange goods and services in a single global market. Each day, thousands of flights connect us to every corner of the globe.
But there is one serious disconnect. It is the lack of compassion. Let us inculcate and transform the individual’s compassion into a global movement. Let us globalize compassion. Not passive compassion, but transformative compassion that leads to justice, equality, and freedom.
Mahatma Gandhi said, “If we are to teach real peace in this world…we shall have to begin with the children.” I humbly add, let us unite the world through the compassion for our children.
Whose children are they who stitch footballs, yet have never played with one? They are our children. Whose children are they who mine stones and minerals? They are our children. Whose children are they who harvest cocoa, yet do not know the taste of a chocolate? They are all our children.
We need collective actions with a sense of urgency. Every single minute matters, every single child matters, every single childhood matters.
I challenge the passivity and pessimism surrounding our children. I challenge this culture of silence, this culture of neutrality.
I, therefore, call upon all the governments, intergovernmental agencies, businesses, faith leaders, the civil society, and each one of us, to put an end to all forms of violence against children. Slavery, trafficking, child marriages, child labour, sexual abuse, and illiteracy have no place in any civilized society.
Friends, we can do this.
Governments must make child-friendly policies and invest in education and young people. Businesses must be more responsible and open to innovative partnerships.
Intergovernmental agencies must work together to accelerate action. Global civil society must rise above business-as-usual and scattered agendas. Faith leaders and institutions and all of us must stand with our children.
We must be bold, we must be ambitious, and we must have the will. We must keep our promises.
Over 40 years ago, on the first day of my school I met a cobbler boy my age sitting at the school gate, polishing shoes. I asked my teachers these questions: “Why is he working outside? Why is he not coming to school with me?” My teachers had no answer. One day, I gathered the courage to ask the boy’s father. He said, “Sir, I have never thought about it. We are just born to work.” This made me angry. It still makes me angry. I challenged it then and I am challenging it today.
As a child, I had a vision of tomorrow. That cobbler boy was studying with me in my classroom. Now, that tomorrow has become TODAY. I am TODAY and you are TODAY. TODAY it is time for every child to have the right to life, the right to freedom, the right to health, the right to education, the right to safety, the right to dignity, the right to equality, and the right to peace.
TODAY, beyond the darkness, I see the smiling faces of our children in the blinking stars. TODAY, in every wave of every ocean, I see our children playing and dancing. TODAY, in every plant, tree, and mountain, I see that little cobbler boy sitting with me in the classroom.
I want you to see and feel this TODAY inside you. My dear sisters and brothers, may I ask you to close your eyes and put your hand close to your heart for a moment? Can you feel the child inside you? Now, listen to this child. I am sure you can!
Today, I see thousands of Mahatma Gandhis, Martin Luther Kings, and Nelson Mandelas marching forward and calling on us. The boys and girls have joined. I have joined in. We ask you to join, too.
Let us democratize knowledge. Let us universalize justice. Together, let us globalize compassion, for our children!
I call upon you in this room and all across the world. I call for a march from exploitation to education, from poverty to shared prosperity, a march from slavery to liberty, and a march from violence to peace. Let us march from darkness to light. Let us march from mortality to divinity.
Let us march!
© The Nobel Foundation, Stockholm, 2014