6th World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates

Linked with our presentation of Kailash Satyarthi – India.

Also linked with our presentation of South Asian Coalition on Child Servitude (SACCS).

Kailash Satyarthi addressed the 6th Gorbechov Nobel Peace Prize Summit in Rome on 25 November 2005. The main theme of the summit this year was “Africa Emergency, Equal Rights for a Non Violent World “.

Text of Speech from Kailash Satyarthi:

Honourable … and Dear…

I am not an expert on Africa, but having worked and living with children for the last two and a half decade including Africa, I see a serious urgency. Let me begin with three very personal incidents of my life in Africa. I met a 15-year-old young Sudanese boy, who was kidnapped by the extremist army, and forced to kill some of his friends and relatives as his first training lesson in becoming a child soldier. The boy still has one hope that a day will come when no one will be forced to kill their dear ones. And, he asked me how it would be possible.

Once travelling in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia I saw a boy crying loudly near a muddy pond. When I asked Peter what was the matter, Peter said, he and his friend were looking after some pigs. A few moments back, one of the pigs went into the swamp and his friend trying to save the pig also went into the swamp and died. An angry crying Peter questioned, “The pig is three times the worth of a boy for our master. Why is the pig costlier than my friend?”

I met a South African girl sold as a domestic servant. She was brutally abused, enslaved and starved by her masters for years. After her release and rehabilitation, she now dreams of becoming a pilot.

Don’t you think that we must address these questions and hopes as a situation of emergency? Nothing could be more violent than the denial of childhood, freedom and dignity of a child. And nothing can be more promising and powerful to bring about equality than such children standing for their rights, dreams and aspirations. These three incidents tell the story of not only Africa but also the world at large.

Africa is the world’s mirror. Half of the population of sub-Saharan Africa lives in dire poverty, and a fifth are affected by conflicts. Africa witnessed 11 major conflicts in 1989 which doubled to 22 in 2000. Over 9.5 million of the roughly 22 million refugees around the world are in Africa, half of these are children. Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest proportion of child labourers with 48 million or 29% of all children there. So, well into the 21st century, a significant proportion of the world’s population can expect that more than one in ten of their children will die in their early years, with hunger killing 6 million children a year, majority of them in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Nearly half of the world’s child soldiers engaged in combat in Africa. Of the 3.1 million children living with HIV/AIDS, 90%, are in Sub-Saharan Africa, while 12% of children under 15 years have been orphaned by AIDS. 40% of children never go to school in Africa – the only region in the world where the numbers of children out of school are rising. In total close to 45 million children in Africa do not attend school, of which most are girls. And, the fate of Africa’s children should be the yardstick to determine the fate of humankind.

Inequality and violence are two sides of a coin. Inequality and violence are synonymous with the chicken and egg relationship, which came first is hard to say. It is the violent mindset that does not allow the rights of individuals to be translated into action. Violence is not just manifested externally but it has been internalised in the multiple facades of inequality. We see civil and political inequality, socio-cultural inequality as well as economic inequality, manifested as disrespect for human rights.

Inequality and poverty are the biggest violence that we face in the world today. Inequalities are the gaps and excesses that we see all around us. Let me talk about one example, the public primary education of an American child costs $5,000 while only $9 is the rural household expenditure on of a Zambian child. Twenty years ago, the ratio of average income in the Least Developed Countries to average income in rich countries was 1:87. It is now 1:98 and the gap is widening at an accelerating rate.

All of us sitting here are adults. The world’s policy makers are adults. The governments are composed of adults. The decision makers are adults. Where is the segment that constitutes nearly 30% of the world’s population, children below 14 years? Children’s rights should not be just a phenomenon but a principle and culture.

Children are small people who need big rights. Yet the rights of many children are still being trampled underfoot. Denial of the basic rights to the children is the worst human rights violation and violence that can be committed. Children in this world of adults are the most vulnerable due to their age gap, lack of decision making powers, and mostly being underestimated and overlooked. The theory of inequality begins with this mindset. Poverty begins when even one child is denied his or her fundamental right to education. Poverty begins when a child gets up every morning not to go to school but to a hard days labour. One billion children live in poverty; 115 million children are out of school and 246 million children are child labourers.

Global military expenditure and arms trade form the largest spending in the world at over $950 billion in annual expenditure, roughly 2% of the gross world product. Only three days of this military expenditure is enough to educate all children of the world. For every soldier, the average world military expenditure is $22,000, while for every school-aged child the average public education expenditure is $380. The cost of a single new nuclear submarine equals the annual education budget of 23 developing countries with 160 million school-aged children.

The recent surge in global conflict and terrorism over the last decade and half, has affected children most adversely. It has killed, maimed and terrorised children, it has snatched their sense of safety and security with 2 million children dead, 6 million injured, nearly 20 million forced to flee their homes and a similar number orphaned. These are not mere numbers; each one of these numbers has a face, a beating heart and a divine soul.

If we are to create a non-violent world with equal rights, let us begin with children. Lets start now with a child centric development paradigm. We should develop child centric thought and action not only in our personal and social lives but also in the policy domains. It is through children focused policy planning that intergenerational cycles of poverty, child labour, illiteracy and discrimination can be broken. The most effective non-violent action for bringing equality is by focusing on children

The adult centric development focuses on the present, while the child centric development is foresighted planning aimed at the next generation and not the next election. It is nature friendly as well as sustainable, with the core values of equality and justice. Further, with children in the pivotal position, it is more humane than material. We are today witnessing the effects of the present day development, which has created enormous disparities and inequality, thereby escalating violence.

All these are symptoms of skewed adult centric development wherein there is a large gap between what countries are prepared to allocate for military means to provide security and maintain their global and regional power status, on the one hand, and to alleviate poverty and promote education and economic development, on the other. These cold but true facts point to a regression towards an unequal and increasingly violent world.

Let me also bring another aspect of adult centric development in this era of globalisation. It has resulted in the formation of a “power troika”. The three powers – Knowledge, State and Capital are fused together making the poor and illiterates, untouchables and outcasts. This tendency could be compared to India’s in-famous caste (varna) system where society was divided in four categories determined by birth. The master of knowledge–Brahmins, state–Khastriyas and trade (capital)–Vaishyas outcast a vast majority–Shudras making them untouchables.

The world today is structured in a manner which resembles a nucleus inhabited by the bearer of “power troika” surrounded by thick periphery housing teeming powerless and voiceless millions and billions. The link between nucleus and periphery is one of exploitation, directly or by patronising: Guinea Pig for scientific experimentation, market and cheap raw material and labour and at best receivers of alms or charity.

This has also resulted in gross injustice in the field of aid, trade and debt. Why for every $1 the US spends in education, another $24 goes to military assistance, while the developing world is spending $13 on debt repayment for every $1 it receives in grants?

Systemic and systematic denial of knowledge power by barring the large segment of society from receiving good quality education has been employed to further shove the vast majority to the fringes. It is this marginalisation that plagues Africa and majority of the poor countries.

How can this power clique be broken? How to sharpen the language and weapon of resistance in the most non-violent manner? The answer lies in: “KNOWLEDGE”. The most advanced and sophisticated knowledge must be in the hands of the poor. It is the only way to change the tide in favour of the voiceless.

What is needed is democratisation of knowledge… knowledge FOR all, knowledge OF all and knowledge BY all … it is not a coincidence that one-sixth of the world’s population is illiterate, more or less the same number sleep with an empty stomach, similar numbers do not have safe drinking water and the same 1 billion are caught in abject poverty. This forms a vicious cycle of complete denial of equal rights.

It is not the poverty that causes illiteracy but illiteracy that leads to poverty. The cost of eradicating illiteracy is less than the cost of maintaining it. Education seeks to promote peace and tolerance, enhances options and opportunities for employment, and also elevates the living standards reducing child labour and poverty, thus breaking the barriers of inequality, thereby ushering an era of the ‘globe with human soul’.

The rise of ethnic violence giving rise to multiplicative ethnic sensitivities could easily be mediated or negotiated for everlasting peace as these tendencies are the resultant of frustration arising out of discrimination, disparity, powerlessness, exclusion and injustice, and lack of communication. Similarly, the ethos of deeper democracy and good governance could be redeemed and start brimming with vitality if participation increases which is a natural corollary of universalisation of education.

However, the universalisation of education can not be achieved in isolation. It has direct relationships, especially in Africa with (a) conflicts, wars, insurgencies and terrorism, (b) economic exploitation of children and adults, forced labour, child labour, trafficking, etc. and (c) structural poverty.

In a world torn by strife, without the inclusion of peace building at policy formulation and action, the key issues affecting people, especially children cannot be adequately addressed. Peace, as one of the cornerstones for children’s rights, calls for the “Quadrangular Paradigm” along with the efforts towards elimination of child labour, education for all and poverty alleviation.

Due to chronic conflict, access to education in parts of Angola, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia and southern Sudan is minimal. In Somalia, only 21% of boys and 13% of girls are in school. Of those who attend primary school, only 20% reach fifth grade.

The figures and statistics go on and on… but what is needed is not just social dialogue, debate and discussion on the issue, what is needed in PEOPLE’S ACTION. In a world facing stagnation, pessimism, socio-psychological disjoint, breakdown of policy action, market economy; action is the only remedy.

It is only through mass movement that internalisation of the values of togetherness, equality and participation would be initiated. We have in 1998, successfully led the physical global march against child labour by former child labourers with over 7.2 million youth and adults through 103 countries demanding for an end to child labour. Traversing 80,000km across the globe, it was historic in drafting of the ILO Convention 182 on Worst Forms of Child Labour, the fastest ratified convention, and resulting in worldwide efforts for the elimination of child labour.

This is also one of the first accounts of genuine child participation. There is no better method of non-violence than the principle of child participation. Child participation cuts across inequalities, categories of class and caste, economic disparity, political borders and strives towards finding solutions with a human soul.

As a practical progression of the Quadrangular Paradigm we are now proposing a worldwide march for peace with children and youth in the lead. Under the guiding principle of “Children for Peace, Peace for Children”, we are organising this peace march in 2007.

The ultimate goal of the peace march is to create a worldwide peoples’ movement, with children and youth in lead to put an end to armed conflicts, wars and terrorism. In order to achieve this, it is our fundamental demand and the demand of millions of children’s and young people across the world that they should not be victims of conflict, and the inflated military spending should be checked and be more constructively applied for the protection of the rights of the children, specially for free and quality education.

It will be an extraordinary moment, when millions of people, especially children and youth will swarm the streets of every part of the world demanding for peace and respect for human rights.

I call upon your solidarity, leadership and guidance to make this a historic event in the creation of a non violent world with equal rights. Thank you!


Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA)

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