Q&A: Nobel laureate’s fight to save children

Peace Prize winner and child rights activist Satyarthi talks about his life, his struggles and his co-winner Malala.

The 60-year-old has been silently running Bachpan Bachao Andolan or Save the Child Movement [AP]

Last week, child rights activist Kailash Satyarthi became the first Indian-born to have jointly won the Nobel Peace Prize along with teenage education campaigner Malala Yousafzai from Pakistan.

But for many Indians the news about this little known activist perhaps came as a surprise.

Far away from the shutterbugs and headlines, the low-profile 60-year-old has been silently running Bachpan Bachao Andolan or Save the Child Movement, an organisation he founded in 1980. Since then BBA has rescued more than 82,000 victims of trafficking and child labour.

He was assaulted several times and lost two of his colleagues, who were murdered by gangs during rescue operations.

Al Jazeera’s Priyanka Gupta spoke to the reclusive Nobel laureate.

Al Jazeera: Winning a Nobel is a big achievement, but what do you think you are yet to achieve in your fight against child labour?

Kailash Satyarthi: The Nobel Prize has given recognition to the issue of all these children, visibility to the issue and strength to the activists all over the world, but that doesn’t mean the age-old problem of child labour will stop. We have to continue our fight.

I spoke to Malala. I requested that we should all join hands for a situation where no child is born in conditions of insurgency, war, terror and violence. We have to work together for the peace of children. We need to involve children from all the world for a new movement – ‘Peace for children – children for peace’.

Al Jazeera: What will you do with the prize money?

SatyarthiEvery single penny of this prize money will go for the cause – to our struggle against child labour, child prostitution and child slavery.

Al Jazeera: Will you and Malala collaborate for a joint fight for a better future for the children in the sub-continent?

SatyarthiI would love to join. It will be my pleasure. The issues in India and Pakistan are connected. When we talk about education for girls it is very related to issues of child labour. I have been campaigning and advocating for 33 years about good quality education. Illiteracy and child labour are two sides of the same coin. Education cannot be attained without ensuring that the children are given a peaceful and safe environment.

Al Jazeera: What led you to this path of activism?

SatyarthiI was six years old when I saw a boy my age in front of my school. He was a cobbler. I talked to my teacher, my headmaster, ‘Why is he not in school?’ – he clarified that he has to work and that … this is very common. It was not very convincing for me. I wondered why can’t all children go to school. That was the beginning.

We have to start with absolute zero. Fight ignorance and negligence.

We start by conducting secret rescue operation which is very difficult. Sometimes, the response is good and sometimes very violent. I lost two of my colleagues in the fight. One of them was beaten to death and the other shot. We have been beaten up several times. We fight against the mafia, coal mafia and other people. It’s not an easy fight. I am happy that people are realising it is a serious issue.

Al Jazeera: How do you feel about winning a joint award with Malala? Do you feel overshadowed by Malala while winning this award?

SatyarthiI am very happy. I love that girl, she is like my young daughter. She is a brave girl.

Al Jazeera: What do you think is the biggest challenge for India when it comes to child labour – the laws and their enforcement?

SatyarthiThe biggest challenge is to change the mindset. People must realise that children are born with fundamental human rights. Their constitutional and legal rights must be protected, that realisation has to come. Children should be given a voice, importance and visibility.

Al Jazeera: You are known as a Gandhian activist. What facets of Gandhi do you think you have adopted? Which are the ideas that you struggle to absorb?

SatyarthiI am an ordinary Indian citizen, a very ordinary social worker. I try to avoid a lot of noise around me. Of course, I want to change from the bottom and I also want to keep working at the top-level. I try to connect with the mass society to bring forward the issues of children.

Al Jazeera: How has winning the Nobel changed your life?

SatyarthiThe only thing is I haven’t been able to sleep properly with so many media requests and thousands of calls from India and abroad.

Even when I am talking to you, children are being sold and being bonded. There are girls who are being forced into prostitution and are being victimised. It’s always on my mind. If I get one paisa – any recognition – I think about how I can help these children.

My only hope is that in my lifetime no one is abused and no one is trafficked.

Follow Priyanka Gupta on Twitter: @priyankagIND