On the 10th of December, a date celebrated as International Human Rights Day, as well as day of the annual Nobel Prize ceremony, a powerful moral voice rose from the highest pulpit of India, the Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi. A gathering such as this one had never taken place before.
Twenty-five Nobel Laureates and global leaders assembled, with a strong resolve to put an end to the sufferings of children everywhere at the inaugural Laureates and Leaders for Children Summit.
We live in a world full of children, but deprived of childhoods.
Independent attempts had been made across the world towards a common future where every child would be free, safe, healthy and educated. However, an intervention was required at the highest level: 168 million children work as labourers and 5.5 million are caught in slavery. One in seven children does not go to school. In India, every eight minutes a child goes missing. The global figure is unknown. In conflict-ridden countries such as Syria, Palestine and South Sudan, about 21 million children are displaced and face inhumane conditions.
We live in a world full of children, but deprived of childhoods. Our world today is wealthier than ever before, yet millions remain impoverished and in the margins of society. Leaps in education and technology have been unprecedented, yet millions are hard to reach and illiterate. Till the day the monopoly of the rich ends, and poor children are no longer made victims of hasty development policies, we will continue to live in a disparate world.
I remember, after receiving my [Nobel] prize in Oslo, I was invited to interact with the Laureates of other disciplines. When I shared narratives of the work we do and the cause we fight for, they were taken aback. Many of them were in utter disbelief. Some said, "Is it happening today, Kailash? Didn't slavery get abolished in the 19th century?"
The discussion brought tears to our eyes. I could feel the compassion in the room, and their will to work for children. Since then, I've been mulling over ways to channelise the potential of these authorities of different disciplines for the most deprived children. I was also honoured to have had friends in some of the world leaders who were able to join us. In this fight against the abuse of children, we could not have missed out on the most powerful constituency of world leaders.
At the Laureates and Leaders Summit, we gathered with one mission, to unite the world through the compassion for our children.
At the Laureates and Leaders Summit, we gathered with one mission, to unite the world through the compassion for our children. We assembled to find common solutions to our common problems, to tackle the issues of violence and neglect of children in policies.
The Hon'ble President of India, Shri Pranab Mukherjee addressing the inaugural session stated that it was a shared responsibility of all and a moral obligation to give children an equal opportunity. Calling it a "noble task", he pressed the leaders to commit themselves to the service of children.
The need of collective efforts has never been so dire. Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein of Jordan urged the world to recognise the plight of children caught in conflict zones. Princess Charlene of Monaco emphasised that children must participate in decisions affecting them and the world needs to invest more to empower and equip them with knowledge of their rights. Princess Laurentien of the Kingdom of Netherlands called for changing the mindset of society towards children and His Holiness the Dalai Lama gave the clarion call to make the 21st century a century of peace and compassion.
Imthiyaz, 16, asked the most pertinent question, which left us all shaken. "How much longer are we to wait?"
Everyone present raised their voice. But, the strongest voice was that of 16-year-old Imthiyaz Ali. He was enslaved at a garment factory in New Delhi and would routinely get beaten up by his employer. Activists of Bachpan Bachao Andolan rescued him a few years ago and now he stays at our Bal Ashram in Viratnagar, Rajasthan.
Imthiyaz asked the most pertinent question, which left us all shaken.
"How much longer are we to wait?"
Made stronger by the presence of the First Lady of Panama HE Lorena Castillo de Varela, former Prime Minister of Australia Julia Gillard, Mdm Kerry Kennedy, Senator Tom Harkin (retired), Secretary General of the OECD Mr Angel Gurria and Nobel Peace Laureates HE José Ramos-Horta, Mdm Leymah Gbowee and Mdm Tawakkol Karman, the summit progressed towards the idea of a united future by way of leaving behind a legacy, an individual and collective Will for Children.
Those gathered have promised to use their voices to protect the voiceless and marginalised children everywhere. We will take actions and work towards a common goal of eradication in child labour in all its forms, and getting all our children into schools and encourage processes that will help monitor and uplift the progresses made through relevant and robust metrics.
We will make efforts to prevent and end violence against children, and their exploitation in acts of terror and violence. We will support and encourage governments, inter-governmental organisations and the private sector to prioritise the empowerment of all children—including free, quality, public education, inclusive, affordable and equitable healthcare; protection, safety and well-being—in their policies, business practices (especially supply chain behaviour) and financing.
It is not our children who need us most, but it is we who rely on them to correct the wrongs of our society
The world community now has targets against child labour, forced labour, modern slavery and human trafficking. This is an opportunity to embrace peace, equality and inclusivity by ensuring freedom for all children. And, it is not the duty of a few international agencies, or governments. It is the responsibility of each and every one of us, the corporate, civil society, media and citizenry. We must all raise our collective voice because children cannot wait.
Besides, it is not our children who need us most, but it is we who rely on them to correct the wrongs of our society and bring it to a more compassionate, progressive and resilient path of peaceful and sustainable development. Therefore, on the second day of the Summit, we launched the "100 Million for 100 Million" campaign which aims to harness the power of youth to act as leaders and change-makers on behalf of children worldwide.
The second Laureates and Leaders for Children Summit will be held in the United Arab Emirates in 2017. In the meanwhile, I wish that the dream we dreamed together here, in New Delhi, begins to take form and children everywhere are allowed to enjoy their childhoods and be free to be children.