No Swacch Bharat without children’s rights: Kailash Satyarthi

New Delhi : Nobel laureate and child rights activist Kailash Satyarthi on Monday said the Indian laws still do not define child labour in a definitive way and that ‘Swachh Bharat’ cannot be attained if children’s rights are not protected.

How can the country be ‘Swachh Bharat’ (Clean India) if childhood is not protected and children do not have access to quality education, Satyarthi asked while lauding Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his ‘Beti Bachao Beti Padhao’ (Save girl child, educate girl child) campaign.

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“Even if our country’s Gross Domestic Product is as high as 15 percent, it is still a challenge for India if children remain enslaved,” Satyarthi added while addressing a session on ‘Child rights and issues’ at the PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

“The Right to Education (RTE) Act has increased enrollment in schools, but drop-out rate has been equally high. This points to the need for quality education in our schools. The RTE is a fundamental right which opens the door to all other rights,” the Nobel Peace Prize winner laureate said.

According to a World Bank study, each dollar invested in education will give 15-fold returns in 20 years, he said, and sought from , the government, industries and civil societies liberal investments in children’s education.

Satyarthi is the founder of ‘Bachpan Bachao Aandolan’, an organisation aimed at protecting child rights.

“Child labour has to be defined in a more elaborate way under the law. Child labour within the family has remained a dicey aspect and has never been included under the Child Labour Act, which still has lacuna,” he said.

In cases where children help their family members at work, it should not be at the expense of their education, Satyarthi said.

A child cannot be employed in hazardous conditions, despite being with family members, he said and added that the law has failed to include these areas under its ambit.

The Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act has a list of 18 hazardous occupations and 65 processes which, he said, should be retained in amendments.

India has the largest child population in the world and the government pegs the number of child labourers around 45 lakh, while non-governmental agencies fix this figure at more than five crore, the child rights activist remarked.

“All children up to the age of 18 are entitled to care and protection and access to education under the law. Unfortunately, this has not been done in the past, but we need to make sure it is enforced properly,” Satyarthi added.

On the proposed legislation on juvenile justice, Satyarthi said the amendment to the Juvenile Justice Act is very important in dealing with cases where juveniles have committed heinous crimes like rape or murder.

The bill seeks to lower from 18 to 16 years the culpable age of a juvenile to be tried as an adult for heinous crimes.