Nobel Peace Prize for the Fight against Child Trafficking

Kailash Satyarthi

Yesterday, in the middle of a hectic afternoon, came the news that Kailash Satyarthi, the founder of Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA) had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. As millions said “Who?”, the resulting traffic apparently crashed BBA’s website.

Not everyone needed to Google India’s eighth Nobel laureate.

In 1980, Laxman Singh was seven-year-old and working at a stone quarry in Faridabad with his parents.

Thirty-four years later, Singh is a treasurer at Bachpan Bachao Andolan headquarters at Kalkaji in Delhi. “I would have languished as a stone quarry labourer in Faridabad had Kailash Satyarthi not made efforts to rescue us,” he said.

Singh was among 2,500 workers and their children who were rescued from the stone quarry by a team of activists, led by Satyarthi

I didn’t go to the website when the news broke; I’d last been there within the week reviewing some of the precedent-setting legal cases BBA has been involved in. BBA (the Save the Childhood Foundation) is a leader in the fights against child trafficking and child labour, and in requiring police to take cases of missing children seriously, and in vindicating the rights of children to a free and compulsory education. BBA actively rescues and rehabilitates children from these situations, and also files lawsuits—public interest litigation (PILs)—to compel the government to adopt policies to prevent the exploitation of children.

Here’s some of the work BBA has done, with two quick explanations.

  • A PIL is a lawsuit, which can be filed directly at the highest court in the land, asking the judiciary to take affirmative steps to protect the right of citizens, particularly the poor and vulnerable.
  • In employment law, a child is below 14 years of age. Child labour, outside of defined dangerous jobs and within confined hours, is legal.

BBA logoTracing missing children: For years, BBA has hammered on the cause of missing children. Their numbers showed that, from 2009 to 2011, 236,014 children went missing, 75,808 children were never found, and the police only registered investigations in 34,899 cases. Frequently, when parents attempted to register missing persons complaints about their children, the police would not register the case, and would not search for the child.

These missing children are subject to being trafficked for labour, for prostitution, for illegal adoption, for begging rings, and for other organized crime. One of our colleagues volunteers with an organization that waits at railroad stations and bus stands for unaccompanied children, looking lost. They’ve run away because they feel like burdens on their poor families, because of bad marks at school, to track down Bollywood and cricket idols, and other reasons of the young. This organization aims to identify the runaways before anyone else can. Sometimes, it’s a race at the station.

BBA’s PIL resulted in the formation of a nation-wide database to register complaints of missing children, a requirement that the police register all complaints received of missing children, and the training of specialized police officers in every police station to handle cases of missing children. 

Ending child trafficking for domestic labour and other abuse: Placement agencies are jobs brokers, when they work as they ought to, and as traffickers (domestic servitude, marriage, sex) when they don’t. BBA argued at the Delhi High Court that more than 10,000 illegal placement agencies were operating in the capital. At the end of September, the Delhi High Court ordered that all placement agencies operating in the capital be licensed by the Labour Department, that domestic workers must be made minimum wages and are eligible to recover backpay, and that every domestic worker receive a passbook documenting the salary and employment terms.

Ending child labour in circuses: In 2002, BBA took on the circus industry. Children were notoriously trafficked into circuses from impoverished areas of Nepal and backward areas of India. In the circuses, children worked dawn to midnight, separated from their family, insulated into only the circus community and deprived an education, subject to beatings and sexual assaults, injured and killed on the job, and not free to leave the circuses.

After BBA’s attempts to negotiate with the circus industry to end the employment of children failed, BBA filed a PIL at the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court ordered a prohibition on the employment of children in circuses, and raids by the government on circuses to rescue all children in them, all to occur within 2 months.

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