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When I started out, it was hard to convince people that child rights matter. Words such as child slavery or child labour were unheard of, even though it was a serious problem. Some believed that for poor children, to work is just another aspect of social or personal life. It was the hardest time when we tried to change this mindset.
When you fight any social crime, it means inviting a lot of problems and many difficulties for yourself. Conventional wisdom on child rights is to take the charity approach. Sometimes, even people in the social sector see social issues in a conventional manner instead of taking a clear human rights approach. That is what makes a human rights or child rights approach tough.
Not just in our country, I see this problem everywhere. (I have worked for 19 years worldwide.) When it comes to the notion of rights, the cultural understanding has not moved forward yet. The moment you speak of rights, people assume it is something connected with laws, judicial procedures and so on. They consider it a complicated affair. Human rights or child rights have to be seen as a part of bringing about cultural change.
When we started Bachpan Bachao Andolan, my family, friends and I pledged not to touch even a glass of water at restaurants or dhabas employing child labour. We decided not to accept hospitality from relatives who had domestic child labour. This was a human rights rather than charity approach.
We faced a lot of pressure. Once, we left a relative’s wedding celebrations where we found children working. You can imagine the hardships we faced. There was a lot of psychological pressure on us. We were called arrogant, accused of overdramatising the issue and so on. But these things are also a part of life.
One must speak of rights as a matter of principle and have the conviction to follow it through. Else, you may work, but not find satisfaction. Nor will your work matter.
A Nobel, they say, can open doors. I have started opening doors to the world’s top leaders, to prime ministers and UN agencies. I want to see children’s rights enshrined in our future development agendas.
My mantra is three Ds—dream, discover, do. Dream big for society, discover the power within you. If you come this far, do something for the world—don’t wait.