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Why this Nobel laureate is banking on kids’ compassion to end child labor

Kailash Satyarthi describes why it’s time for children to advocate for each other and end child labor.

The world has globalized markets, economies and technologies, so why not global compassion, asks Nobel laureate and long-time children’s rights advocate Kailash Satyarthi.

In December, he launched the 100 Million for 100 Million campaign to connect young people wanting to make a difference with those who struggle as child laborers.

At least 100 million children are endangered or exploited through slavery, trafficking, the refugee crisis and child marriage, while hundreds of millions of other young people live in better conditions and want to do something good, he said.

“They should be the spokespersons and changemakers for those 100 million left out brothers and sisters,” Satyarthi said during a recent visit to Washington, D.C. “In the age of fundamentalism and extremism of thoughts and ideologies and the political narratives … we are trying to inculcate them and deepen the value of global citizenship.”

The 100 Million for 100 Million website details how people can help, such as signing pledges and encouraging governments to ratify laws that protect children. The goal is to build a collective response to finally eliminate child labor.

Child labor, though still prevalent in some countries, is declining globally. The number of child laborers worldwide went from 246 million in 2000 down to 168 million in 2012, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Labor.

Satyarthi said he hopes his campaign, which partners with schools, teachers, parliaments and U.N. agencies, will help contribute to the downward trend. He has visited schools in India, Bangladesh, Britain and Brazil to encourage students to sign pledges, and briefed congressional staffers in Washington, D.C.

“Young people should take the lead, and not be considered as the problem in the world, but solutions,” he said. “We should tell them that they are the champions and heroes, find leadership in them and create that space.”

Satyarthi’s home country of India recently ratified two international conventions: one to set a minimum age of employment and a second to end the worst forms of child labor, including slavery, forced labor and trafficking. He urged the United States to do the same.

The U.S. has ratified the convention on the worst forms of child labor, but not the minimum age of employment convention. The U.S. also has signed but not ratified the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child. Ratification would require a two-thirds majority vote in the Senate, and some senators have expressed concerns that it would give up U.S. sovereignty.

Satyarthi said he remains optimistic that deep-seated mindsets on child labor will change, just as attitudes regarding women as second-class citizens have improved. “I am confident that child labor is an evil that I will see an end of it in my lifetime,” he said.

View more profiles of social entrepreneurs in our Agents for Change series.

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