Kailash Satyarthi: The reality of modern child slavery

From a speech by the campaigner to the UN Special Session on Children, in New York
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The Independent Online

For a 14-year-old Indian girl called Gulabo, education would have meant life and liberty. Her father toiled for years as a slave labourer in brick kilns. Gulabo was born and brought up as a slave and was afflicted with severe malnutrition and tuberculosis.

They were tortured and abused, sexually, physically and mentally. They were never paid any wages except for poor quality food to barely survive. A few years' back, with the help of Supreme Court of India, I liberated this family and 27 others in a secret raid. When I brought them to my office, the condition of the girl deteriorated and she collapsed. Her last words were, "I want to live, mother."

When her father, accompanied by me, was asked to sign the papers to release the dead body from the mortuary, he said, "If I were literate, my family and I would never be in slavery and I would not have lost my daughter."

He explained, his employers took thumb impressions on papers against any amount of money, which he could never read and understand, pushing him into perpetual slavery. This is the reality of millions trapped into slavery even in the 21st century only because they are illiterate.

Freedom and learning are the birthright of every human being. Anything that takes away these rights is a crime against nature and humanity. If a child is compelled to work at the cost of his freedom and education it is shame on those who exploit, but a bigger shame on those who offer them fine words and empty promises.

Nelson Mandela rightly challenged this, saying: "Will our legacy be more than a series of broken promises." 2002 will be a historic year for the world's children if we only honour the promises we have already made to them.