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


Indonesians divided over plan to move capital from Jakarta

Updated 41 min 39 sec ago

Indonesians divided over plan to move capital from Jakarta

  • President Jokowi has said government will cover 19% of the $33 billion relocation cost
  • Government has allocated 180,000 hectares of land in East Kalimantan for new capital

JAKARTA: Having heard for months from the media about government plans to move the administrative capital from Jakarta, Indonesians got a clearer picture when President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo formally placed the idea before the country’s parliament in August. 

So far, the government has completed part of the spadework in preparation for the transfer: Conducting a three-year study and requesting parliament’s consent for the plan to move the capital to a location in East Kalimantan province, on Borneo, an island Indonesia shares with Malaysia and Brunei.

Jokowi, who began his second and final term on Oct. 20, had formally asked the public to sign off on the plan during his annual state of the nation address in Aug. Ten days later he announced that the government had earmarked 180,000 hectares of land straddling the districts of North Penajam Paser and Kutai Kartanegara in East Kalimantan province for the new capital.

Jokowi has pegged the cost of the relocation of the capital from Jakarta at $33 billion. He claims the government will need to carry only 19 percent of the cost, while the remainder will be taken care of by private investments and public-private partnership schemes.

The National Development Planning Agency, or Bappenas, has fixed 2021 as the year for the groundbreaking of the project. It will launch the transfer process by the end of 2024, the year Joko’s presidential term ends.

Defending the decision to select a site in remote East Kalimantan to be the as-yet-unnamed new capital, Jokowi has said that it will spur regional development and reduce economic disparity between Java and other parts of Indonesia.

Coastal village in East Kalimantan, where the new Indonesian capital is proposed to be relocated. (Shutterstock)

Jokowi, whose re-election was partly propeled by a vigorous infrastructure drive, has also said the new capital’s location will be strategic: in the country’s middle in addition to being close to two developing cities — Samarinda and Balikpapan — which have the advantages of a major seaport and international airports.

The government also said that East Kalimantan is less prone to natural disasters because the island is not part of the Pacific Ring of Fire. By contrast, Sumatra, Java and other islands on the southern side of the archipelago are dotted with active volcanoes and prone to earthquakes and tsunamis.

The downside, however, is that East Kalimantan and its neighboring provinces are prone to man-made disasters. The annual forest fires caused by slash-and-burn land-clearing methods — mainly for palm oil plantations — produce thick smog, which creates a toxic haze in places as far away as Sabah and Sarawak in Malaysia’s part of Borneo.

The problem is compounded by a combination of easily burned peat lands and a long-drawn-out dry season. Satellite images show that East Kalimantan is one of the provinces with the highest number of hotspots, or areas where fires are detected.

Greenpeace, the environmental watchdog, has pointed out that during the 2015 forest fires, 3,487 hotspots were found in the Kutai Kartanegara district alone.

Leonard Simanjuntak, Greenpeace Indonesia’s country director, said that environmental concerns should be taken into consideration before the capital is relocated from Jakarta.

INNUMBERS

$40.1 BILLION - Budget allocation for Jakarta’s urban revamping.

$33 BILLION - Cost of building the new capital.

1.5 MILLION - Expected population of new capital.

1,300 KILOMETERS - Distance from Jakarta to site of new capital. 1-15cm Annual rate of Jakarta’s surface subsidence.

1957 - Year first President Sukarno floated the idea of moving the capital to Kalimantan.

“The threat posed by the global climate crisis or the environmental mismanagement of Jakarta should not be a reason to cut and run by moving the capital,” he told Arab News.

“However, it must provide a wake-up call and become a major consideration in Indonesia’s development strategy going forward. The relocation of our capital will only shift environmental problems or create new ones,” Leonard told Arab News.

The government, though, envisions the new capital as a city built from scratch, with at least 50 percent green spaces; less dependence on private vehicles thanks to an integrated public-transport network, bicycle lanes and wide pedestrian paths; buildings with green designs; renewables meeting part of the energy requirements; and “smart” water and waste management systems.

Despite its determination to go ahead with the capital transfer, the government has yet to rally public opinion behind the idea.

A survey conducted by Kedai Kopi, a political pollster, in August showed that 95.7 percent of respondents who were from Jakarta disagreed with the idea of transferring the capital.

Across the country, the percentage of respondents who did not support the idea was 39.8 percent. This was higher than the number of respondents who agreed with the plan (35.6 percent) and who had no opinion on the issue (24.6 percent).

“It is no wonder that most respondents from Jakarta disagreed with the plan since they would be the most impacted by the move,” Kunto Wibowo, the executive director of pollster Kedai Kopi, told Arab News.

The concerns are well founded. Jakarta is notorious for its traffic congestion and worsening air quality in addition to being a sinking city due to land subsidence (at a rate from 1cm to 15cm annually).

In another national survey, conducted by pollster Median, 45.3 percent of 1,000 respondents did not agree with the capital-transfer idea compared to the 40.7 percent who agreed.

Rico Marbun, executive director of Median, said in a statement that 58.6 percent of respondents felt the government ought to tackle more pressing issues, notably a stagnant economy, poverty and public welfare, unemployment and lack of opportunities; social unrest in Papua and West Papua provinces, and infrastructure. 

A view of a heavily mined and logged forestland in East Kalimantan, where the proposed new capital of Indonesia is to be located. (Shutterstock)

Speaking to Arab News, Nirwono Joga, an urban planning expert at Jakarta’s Trisakti University, said: “If there were funds available to develop a new capital, it would be wiser to divert it to accelerate urban development in other cities.

“We can’t stop people from moving to Jakarta but we can avert it by developing new economic zones outside the greater Jakarta area and outside Java.”

For his part, Jokowi has been assuring Indonesians that Jakarta will not cease to be a government priority.

“Jakarta will continue to be developed as an international and regional business, finance, trade and service hub,” he said.

“The city administration has allocated 571 trillion rupiahs ($40.1 billion) for urban regeneration in the city. The plan is ready for execution.”

An estimated 10 million Indonesians live in Jakarta proper. If the population of the satellite cities is included, many of whom commute into the capital every day, the total figure is 30 million.

The principal city of Java, Indonesia’s most populated island, Jakarta is home to about 149 million people — or more than half of the country’s total population.

As such, Jakarta’s status as Indonesia’s business and finance capital is not under any immediate threat.

It will also continue to be the diplomatic capital of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). A new secretariat building of ASEAN’s headquarters in Jakarta was inaugurated on Aug. 8, ASEAN Day, to mark the bloc’s formation in 1967. Of the 93 ambassadors accredited to ASEAN, 74 are currently based in Jakarta.

“The secretariat will not be moving to Kalimantan because we just got a new building,” Lim Jock Hoi, ASEAN’s secretary-general, said at the ASEAN editors’ roundtable of the Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA) in Bangkok, Thailand, on Oct. 6.

“We will strengthen our presence in Jakarta and there’s no way that we can move to Kalimantan if the capital is there.”

Beyond the diplomatic, economic and strategic arguments, Jakarta has a certain intangible edge over other Indonesian cities. As Fadli Zon, a former deputy House Speaker, pointed out recently, it is the city where the country’s independence was declared and the state ideology Pancasila developed, as well as where the constitution was formulated and drafted.

“This collective memory is what unites us as a nation,” he said.