After a long wait of almost two decades, the Government of India is ratifying the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labour and Convention 138 on Minimum Age of Employment. Though belated, the decision to ratify two key ILO conventions on child labour makes clear India's intent of zero tolerance for the exploitation of children.
I remember how we conceived this idea to demand an international law on the abolishment of modern forms of slavery, sale and trafficking of children, forced or compulsory labour and the usage of children in conflict, for pornography and for procuring and doing other illicit activities such as drug trafficking. We conceptualised a march which would travel through 103 countries and across 80,000 kms to culminate on 6 June, 1998 in Geneva, where the International Labour Organisation (ILO) was meeting for its annual conference.
This decision by the government, [marking] the World Day against Child Labour, is a testament to our renewed commitment to end the exploitation of children and remove all barriers to development.
Nearly 15 million people across the world walked together to demand a strong international law to protect vulnerable children. We even received support from 71 Prime Ministers and Presidents who walked alongside and gave commendable support to the cause. Most importantly, I remember the children who joined us from Nepal, Pakistan, Vietnam, Brazil and other developing nations. Their presence in the seminar hall where the honorary delegates were meeting made all the difference. The innocent yet powerful voices of the children could not be ignored and reflected in the draft of the ILO Convention 182 on the worst forms of child labour.
A year later, in June 1999, the ILO unanimously adopted the convention. It was the first time that a convention or treaty had been adopted with the full support of all members. Over the years, with the support of our international partner organisations, I have spearheaded its ratification by member nations. With 180 countries having already become signatories to it, the C182 has also become the fastest ratified convention in the history of the ILO. Their affiliation to the Convention clearly demonstrates the rising status of children's issues in the political and global agenda.
But even as hope soars, the realities around us are a harsh reminder of the atrocities our children are subjected to. This year, particularly, I have been in anguish due to the repeated and frequent reports of sexual violence against children in India. Brutal incidents of child sexual abuse have become all too common across the country. Today, one in every three rape victims in India is a child. According to data compiled by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) for 2015, 8,800 cases of child rape were registered under POCSO. The same set of data also reveals that sexual abuse and kidnapping account for 81% of the crimes against children. Going by media reports, the numbers must have increased in the past two years.
But even as hope soars... this year, particularly, I have been in anguish due to the repeated and frequent reports of sexual violence against children
Another point of worry is the socio-economic state of Indian children. Recently, a report by the Oxford University has concluded that 31% of the world's children living in abject poverty are living in India. In effect, that is more than 100 million children whose life-long potential and ability to rise out of poverty is diminished, forever, because of the dearth of faculties, opportunities and a safe and nurturing childhood.
However, today, I feel a sense of accomplishment and optimism. I am confident that if we are able to sustain this momentum, we will completely eliminate all forms of violence against children. Both, theoretically and empirically, child labour perpetuates illiteracy and poverty. It gives rise to inequality which manifests itself in various forms of violence and anger. This decision by the Government of India, which has come at the most opportune time to commemorate the World Day against Child Labour, is a testament to our renewed commitment to end the exploitation of children and remove all barriers to development.
India, by the sheer strength of its numbers, resources and investments is an emerging world leader. Therefore, in order to lead the way for other nations, and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by the year 2030, protection and promotion of children's rights should be put at the top of our development agenda.
To revive and reawaken the energy and commitment of 1998, I will be beginning another march, later this year, for the fulfillment of our common goal for the future: "Surakshit Bachpan, Surakshit Bharat (Safe Childhoods for Safe India)."
My hope from this march is captured beautifully in an old saying:
"When we walk alone, we walk fast
When we walk together, we walk far."
Let us celebrate these moments and take steps towards the creation of a world which will be fair to its children. Let us walk far and create a future in which child sexual abuse, child slavery and child trafficking are things of history.