Nobel winner Kailash Satyarthi’s new campaign: to protect children from online abuse

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Children’s campaigner Kailash Satyarthi visited the UAE for a screening of his documentary “The Price of Free”. The film chronicles his 40-year fight against child abuse. (AFP)
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Children’s campaigner Kailash Satyarthi visited the UAE for a screening of his documentary “The Price of Free”. The film chronicles his 40-year fight against child abuse. (AFP)
Updated 08 February 2019

Nobel winner Kailash Satyarthi’s new campaign: to protect children from online abuse

  • Kailash Satyarthi won global acclaim with his fight against child labor. Now he has a new target — online abuseIndian earned global acclaim for his fight against child labor
  • He spoke to Arab News while in Dubai to promote "The Price of Free"

DUBAI: Clad in a neat white kurta, Kailash Satyarthi comes across as an unassuming man. But when the Nobel Peace Prize winner starts to speak, it is impossible not to be gripped by his story of a four-decade struggle against child labor and slavery.

Earlier this month, the 65-year-old Satyarthi was in the UAE for a private screening of his documentary, “The Price of Free,” winner of the 2018 US Documentary Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival.

The film traced his work fighting for children’s rights, but now he has a new aim: A campaign for international laws to protect the young from online abuse and exploitation. 

“The way the Internet and smartphones have penetrated our lives — regardless of whether you are rich or poor — is unbelievable,” he said. “This digital explosion has also led to many serious problems. Online child abuse is certainly one of them.”

Satyarthi has written to political leaders across the world, calling for a new convention on the issue. “Given that online crimes transcend borders, extra-territorial jurisdiction for the proposed law is absolutely essential. We need a dedicated, toll-free international helpline for reporting cases related to online child sexual abuse, under the supervision of the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol) and other relevant agencies,” he said.

After graduating as an engineer, Satyarthi started campaigning for child rights where he lived, in a small town near Bhopal in central India. “In 1981, a poor Muslim family knocked on my door. They needed help to find their 15-year-old daughter, who was enslaved,” Satyarthi recalled. 

With the help of local villagers and his friends, he worked to have her freed. The family and the girl are still in touch with him: “They are part of my family now.” 

That was where he began. Supported by a group of  fellow activists, he would raid sites where children were forced to work and free them, sometimes with the support of the authorities, but often with only the help of local villagers.

Battling an unresponsive system, he survived multiple attacks, and now travels around the world, throwing his weight behind efforts to free children from forced labor and slavery. In India alone, Satyarthi and his foundation have been credited with freeing 87,000 children.




Children’s campaigner Kailash Satyarthi  with supporters of his advocacy. (AFP)

In 1996, he began a campaign for an international law against child labor. This led to a “Global March Against Child Labor” in 1998, in which he walked 80,000 km across 103 countries. As a result, in 1999, the International Labour Organization (ILO) adopted Convention 182: Prohibition and Immediate Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labor.

Yet, the struggle continues. According to the latest ILO estimates, 152 million children are involved in child labor, including slavery, trafficking, debt bondage and other forms of work, and forced recruitment for armed conflict, prostitution, pornography and other illicit activities.

Even in the Arab world, 1.2 million children are working as child laborers and 616,000 are involved in hazardous work. Despite being the lowest figure of any region in the world, it still means about 3 percent of children are involved in child labor. 

Africa ranks highest, both in the percentage of children in child labor — around 20 percent — and the absolute number of children — 72 million. Asia and the Pacific ranks second highest on both these measures, with 7 percent of all children and 62 million in absolute terms.

Globally, 64 million girls and 88 million boys are still in child labor, accounting for almost 10 percent of all children worldwide. Making things worse, almost half of all them are in hazardous work that threatens their health and safety.

For Satyarthi, though, it is not all bad news. In fact, he has reason to believe that his struggle is bearing fruit. “It has been a long journey, but a fulfilling one. In the year 2000, there were 260 million children working. And in 2018, the number has come down to 152 million,” he said.

According to Satyarthi, child labor is linked to poverty and illiteracy. “If we need to fight against child labor, we need to work on illiteracy and poverty eradication,” he said.

This is precisely what his organization, the Children’s Foundation, has been doing in 144 countries for more than 20 years. The fight has not been easy anywhere, but he found the sub-Saharan African region the most difficult. “Weak governance, apathy and corruption,” he said. “Rehabilitation of these children has always been an issue because of a lack of resources and facilities.”

Satyarthi’s dedication to the cause also brought him to the Middle East, where his primary focus has been on protecting child refugees. Of the 166 million children living in the region, 61 million are living in countries affected by war. According to Satyarthi, governments around the world, especially in Europe, are unnecessarily reluctant to host refugees, especially children.

“Please do not assume that you are doing any favors to these (refugees). They are not going to take anything from you. These poor souls are victims of circumstance. It is the responsibility of the world to take care of them,” he said.

He recalls a meeting with a 10-year-old Syrian boy in a refugee camp in Germany. The youngster — who had lost both his arms and had no parents — somehow reached Germany with the help of family friends. 

“Despite what he had been through, the child looked confident and positive. He told me he is not going to live in Germany forever. He wanted to go home to Syria. He wanted to become an engineer and build new houses for his countrymen who have lost theirs.” 

Satyarthi also had words of appreciation for Arab governments and their efforts in taking care of the refugees. “Arab governments are sensitive about the issue. They are taking care of Arab refugee children very well. They are spending money to make sure they remain safe.”

He also took the opportunity to urge compassionate leaders, governments and businesses in the Gulf to extend their fullest support to refugee children and their communities “so that they are protected, sheltered and nurtured for a promising tomorrow.

“Otherwise an entire budding generation will be wiped out,” he said.

Satyarthi has always believed that refugees are a global responsibility and much more needs to be done to safeguard their interests. Moreover, several layers of support need to be established to improve things. 

“Though the problem is regional, it should not be treated as so. It is a global responsibility,” he said.

“Every border should be open. Every treasury should be free and every heart should be open for children.”

“The Price of Free” is available for screening on YouTube.

For more information, visit https://priceoffree.com


No plane, no pilots and no real answers on missing Philippine training plane

Updated 21 min 24 sec ago

No plane, no pilots and no real answers on missing Philippine training plane

  • The training plane owned by Orient Flying Schoo vanished on May 17 off Mindoro island
  • On board the aircraft were Saudi student pilot Abdullah Khalid Al-Sharif and his Filipino instructor

MANILA: The Beechcraft Baron 55 disappeared ten minutes after it took off on May 17 from San Jose Airport in the central Philippine island of Mindoro.

The Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) said that the last known position of RP-C9078, the tail number by which the plane has come to be popularly identified, was just 16 nautical miles south of the airport over the deep waters of the Mindoro Strait, after which radar contact was lost.

Since then, no pieces of the wreckage of the training plane have been found; nor have any remains of the two people on board, Abdullah Khalid Al-Sharif, a 23-year-old Saudi student at the Orient Flying School, and his Filipino instructor, Captain Jose Nelson Yapparcon.

An investigation into the mystery has spanned three months and involved the Philippines Coast Guard, Navy and Air Force scouring the seas, army troopers and policemen combing rugged offshore islands and the Saudi embassy in Manila providing logistical and liaison support. Sophisticated sonar equipment has been deployed to scan thousands of hectares of the seabed and conducted aerial and sea searches in Occidental Mindoro and its neighboring provinces. Information networks for the public to report possible sightings of the plane or the pilots were established in 11 villages near and around San Jose Airport.

But to date, there are no definitive answers. A black bag confirmed to be owned by Yapparcon and containing his wallet, credit cards, pilot’s license and other sundry items was caught on the nylon rope of a seaweed plantation, found by fishermen and turned over to authorities. Other than that, there is little certainty about the whereabouts of the plane and its doomed passengers and their fate has become one of the most vexing aviation disappearances in the history of the Philippines.

“As of now … pending new information on the location and anything that would point out where the aircraft was or the pilots ... we (have) toned down the search and rescue operation, short of suspending,” Col. Jose Mendoza, the chief of security at CAAP’s Security and Intelligence Service, told Arab News in an interview. He declined to specify if the search had been entirely called off.

Most leads, indeed, have gone dry and the mystery of the missing plane has given rise to speculation and conspiracy theories. Also confusing for many pilots is how a plane manned by a veteran such as 50-year-old Yapparcon, whom many of his colleagues described as “one of the best pilots” of the twin-engine Beechcraft Baron 55, could disappear without a trace.

The mystery is deepened by claims by Al-Sharif’s family that they were able to contact his mobile phone one week after he went missing. In a recording of a phone conversation in the possession of authorities in the Philippines and Saudi Arabia and heard by Arab News, a person picks up the phone and Al-Sharif’s mother is heard saying in Arabic, “Where is Abdullah, where is Abdullah,” before the line drops.

In an official report written in English and translated in Arabic, and seen by Arab News, the report said that the telecommunication company Globe records shows no incoming or outgoing calls from Al-Sharif’s cell phone since the morning of May 17. 

A police report on the disappearance of RP-C9078 obtained by Arab News identified the owner of the missing trainer aircraft as “Racel Kara Cadingan.”

A retired general with knowledge of the case said “it is common knowledge who owns” the academy, and that is Captain Romel Cadingan, father of Racel Kara. However, the civil aviation authority spokesman, Eric Apolonio, denied that Captain Romel is currently the owner of the school. “The captain had been the owner and operator of the school in the past,” he said.

Capt. Cadingan holds the rank of deputy director II at the CAAP. He previously served as chief of the CAAP Flight Standards Inspectorate Service (FSIS), but was recently reassigned to the CAAP Office of the Deputy Director for Administration for Special Projects to oversee the construction of a new domestic airport in Sangley Point, Cavite.

Apolonio said that Cadingan was moved to Sangley because “his expertise was needed there.” He also confirmed that Cadingan’s reassignment to Cavite came after his name began to be dragged into the case of the missing plane.

Arab News tried to reach Capt. Cadingan, as well as officials of the flying school, for comment but had not received any response at the time of writing.

Using a freedom of information law, Arab News requested from CAAP a copy of the investigation report on the disappearance of RP-C9078, as well as other documents that could conclusively detail the history and profile of the flying school and the missing plane. CAAP denied the request, saying that the information could not be shared until the aircraft accident and inquiry board finished its work.

The Saudi embassy in Manila also declined to comment on the status of the investigation, saying only that it was very much in touch with both the missing Saudi pilot’s family and authorities in Manila.

“The embassy will (put) serious efforts toward this issue (the Saudi missing pilot issue), and it prays to Allah that all the search efforts would yield the return of the missing citizen Abdullah Al-Sharif safe and sound to his family,” a statement by the embassy of Saudi Arabia in Manila issued on July 30, 2019 said.

A police report seen by Arab News showed that the missing plane had been involved in a previous accident in Palawan province in July 2015 while delivering fish. Though the pilot of the 2015 crash did not sustain injuries, “the aircraft incurred an undetermined amount of damages,” the police report said, adding that the crash was caused by the “mechanical failure of nose wheel.”

Apolonio, in an earlier interview with Arab News, confirmed the 2015 incident involving RP-C9078. He added the plane was later acquired by the Orient Aviation Flying School. The spokesman stressed that despite the previous accident, RP-C9078 “passed all safety procedures” to be used as a trainer aircraft.

“We have safety procedures and a checklist and it (aircraft) passed all these. It has been used as a trainer aircraft for years now,” he said.

Army Brig. Gen. Marceliano Teofilo, commander of the Army 203rd Brigade that led the land search for RP-C9078, said that the investigators’ inability to find wreckage had given rise to suspicions and conspiracy theories around the missing plane.

“It is really very unusual that an aircraft would just disappear,” the commander said. “There was no wreckage of the plane, except for the bag of the Filipino pilot that was retrieved; that’s why there are speculations.”

For Al-Sharif’s family, especially his father, uncle and younger brother who have been in the Philippines since the plane went missing, the only hope is to find out what happened to him.

“He was supposed to graduate in two months before what happened to him,” his brother Abdul Majeed told Arab News. “I will not go back to Saudi Arabia until and unless I see my brother alive in front of my eyes.”