Shri Kailash Satyarthi was honoured with the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014 for his tireless struggle for child rights in India and across the world. Since 1981, when he founded the Bachpan Bachao Andolan, he and his colleagues have rescued more than 85,000 children from child slavery and bonded labour. His quest for dignity and fundamental rights of children continues even now. In an exclusive interview to Organiser’s Senior Correspondent Pramod Kumar, he talks about the growing menace of child sexual abuse and why he is on a nationwide Bharat Yatra to raise social awareness about this evil. Excerpts:
Recently many cases of child abuse have been reported in the media. As a child rights activist how do you look at it?
Child rapes are becoming a moral epidemic that is haunting India. So is violence against children including abuse and trafficking. It seems that no place is safe anymore for children. They can be abused inside homes, in schools and in playgrounds. The perpetrators can be friends, relatives, teachers, doctors and even policemen. In a majority of cases, the fear of social stigma and a false sense of family pride prevent victims and their parents from reporting the crimes. We face a sad situation where victims and their families live in fear while the rapists roam free and fearless.
What are you doing to curb this menace?
Personally, I have declared a war on child rape. I refuse to remain a silent spectator. Each time a child is in danger, the entire country is in danger. A safe India is possible only when our children are safe. That is why I have embarked on the Bharat Yatra for a ‘Surakshit Bachpan- Surakshit Bharat’. I am personally leading this 11,000 kilometer long march that started from Kanyakumari and will culminate in Delhi on October 16. I am marching with victims, their families, ordinary citizens and passionate young citizens to reawaken the slumbering conscience of our society.
Our aim is to persuade and inspire people to speak out loudly and vehemently against this atrocity. Staying silent is not an option. Our silence is breeding more violence. It is only when ordinary citizens decide to speak out that change takes place.
I have personally met numerous victims and their family members over the last few months and their horror stories have shaken me. I want millions of Indians to become the voice of these victims. We cannot just leave solutions to the law and to police personnel. We have to ourselves become change agents. Only then we can have an India that is safe for the children. Launching the Bharat Yatra from the Vivekananda Rock Memorial was also a personally inspirational moment for me. His vision and words have gone a long way in reviving a proud and ancient heritage and civilisation that is decaying and dying.
We need to reclaim the same legacy when it comes to safety and dignity of all our children. All faiths celebrate and treasure children. That is why we have persuaded spiritual leaders of all faiths across India to actively participate in the movement. Their support will significantly influence ordinary citizens when it comes to child safety.
Even educational institutions are witnessing behavioural disorders. What are the primary reasons behind this?
It is indeed alarming the way children are becoming victims of abuse inside schools. When family members enroll their child in a school, they expect that all precautions would be taken to ensure the safety of their wards. Unfortunately that very basic bond of trust and faith is breaking down. One reason is the growing moral decay that we see in our society. The other is the increasing greed of some school managements for whom money and profits have become more important than the safety of children. Besides, we as parents and citizens are speaking out loudly enough to demand accountability and safety. The biggest failure of ours as a society also is that we have forgotten that education is a Fundamental Right enshrined in the Constitution and not a profitable business. We cannot have a situation where public education is being replaced by private schools.
Do you think breaking of the family institution and increased penetration of internet are important factors in increasing the sexual abuses?
I recently met an articulate,
affluent and highly educated mother of a boy who committed suicide out of shame. He was being sexually abused for months and she was simply not aware of it. She was in tears when she told me: “How could we not know that he was facing such trauma and
torture?” Our society seems to be in a race towards material prosperity and we often fail to pay attention to our children because of this.
What are the precautionary measures that you would
suggest for parents and their wards?
I would urge all the parents and family members to become friends of children so that they can share their problems without any hesitation. There is no option but to invest time in the children.
At the social and national level what steps can be taken to curb this menace?
Every hour, every day, two children are sexually abused and eight go missing. Many of the missing children end up as sex slaves. The stringent POCSO was enacted in 2012 to prevent such crimes and bring the perpetrators to swift justice. But the reality is shocking. Barring exceptions, we still have indifferent police personnel who don’t conduct proper investigations. Even if they do, our judicial system is so slow that justice almost always remains elusive. In some states, the cases of child sexual abuse take more than 20 years to come to a conclusion. This enables rapists to behave with impunity.
Law enforcement has to improve. But perhaps more important is the social awareness. We still face a situation where victims are shamed. We need a society where rapists are shamed, punished and socially boycotted. I am confident that the Bharat Yatra will eventually lead to a social reawakening.
I have also launched a campaign that urges Parliamentarians and all elected representatives to go back to the schools from where they have studied. They must visit not as VIP guests but as ordinary parents. At the moment, there is crisis of confidence and trust when it comes to parents sending children to schools. Regular visits by elected representatives will help revive confidence.