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Advancing the dialogue against child labour – Mission to Europe in February 2014

In the first week of February, Mr. Kailash Satyarthi was invited by Royal Society of Medicine in London to address the medical fraternity about the perils of child labour. The health hazards associated with child labour have been well documented, as have the effects of child labour on the physical, psychological, moral and spiritual well being of a child. The children that are rescued are both physically and psychologically scarred. Thus upon rescue, the medical professionals become the first line of support for the survivors. In his speech Mr. Satyarthi called upon medical professionals and their associates to conduct research on health hazards associated with different forms of child labour; developing protocols for dealing with cases of trauma and violence; encouraging child labour free supply chains of medical products; engaging the medical community to help child survivors tide over physical/psychological trauma, especially in the cases of trafficking, sexual exploitation, slavery and slavery like conditions and proactively counter the evil of child marriage.

The celebrated British portrait artist Ms. Claire Phillips, known for her commendable socio- political narration, convened a photo session for Mr. Satyarthi in London for her upcoming art exhibition. At this forthcoming event, she will portray various manifestations of child labour on canvas.

In The Hague, on 10 February 2014, Mr. Satyarthi was invited to present at the Dutch Parliamentary   hearing   on   Bangladesh’s   garment   manufacturing   sector.   Ms.   Lilianne Ploumen, Minister for Foreign Trade and Development – Netherlands Government, along with  other  members  of  the  associated  parliamentary  committee  were  present  at  the hearing. Mr. Satyarthi spoke about how the situation on the ground continues to remain perilous for garment workers, despite the Accord on Fire and Building Safety that has been signed by close to 200 apparel brands that source from the country. He highlighted the revised  wage  structure  in  Bangladesh  that  is  still  the  lowest  in  the  garment  sector worldwide, and the presence of rampant child labour. He recommended possible interventions in terms of a business driven transparent/accountable monitoring framework with a proactive approach by the apparel brands to delve into the lower tiers of their supply chains. He further suggested about government driven regulatory frameworks with provisions to counter child labour in supply chains, prosecute and convict those involved in the violation of human rights in garment supply chains. Mr. Satyarthi recommended that government must put provisions in place to ensure that garment workers in Bangladesh are able to enjoy collective bargaining, freedom of association and overall decent working conditions. He also emphasised that civil society, in particular child rights NGOs must assume their responsibilities towards supporting government agencies in preventing, protecting and rehabilitating victims of human rights violations including child labourers (or including of child labour).

In Sweden, Mr. Satyarthi along with Mr. Ehsaan-Ullah Khan (National Coordinator of Global March in Sweden) met two members of the Swedish Parliament; Ms. Amineh Kakabaveh and Mr. Jan Lindholm. Both parliamentarians expressed keen interest in Global March’s key role in the follow up of the Brasilia Declaration, and discussed various issues including bringing a resolution against child slavery in the Parliament that could positively impact the ODA policy of Sweden in eliminating the worst forms of child labour. , helping

Mr Satyarthi also met two Iranian child rights activists Ms. Suzan Bahar and Mr. Saber who are currently in exile in Sweden. It is a known fact that by ratifying amendments  22 and 27 of th e  Pro tect ion  o f  Child re n ’s  Right s  legislation, the Islamic Republic of Iran has conferred on the foster parents the right to marry the adopted child. Global March is currently running a campaign urging the Republic to abolish such legislation and promoting children’s rights in Iran. The two child rights activists also apprised the Global March Chair of the serious issues related to child labour, street children and child marriages. They said that children’s rights organisations and NGOs are repressed by the Government of Iran  and are dissuaded and harassed in all possible ways.

In Brussels, Mr. Satyarthi met Mr. Tim Noonan, Director of Campaigns and Communications, ITUC. They discussed the possibility of the active participation of affiliated trade unions in the proposed Worldwide Week of Action Against Child Slavery. In addition, they talked about the non-fulfilment of important mandates of the Roadmap that was adopted at the end of Global Child Labour Conference at The Hague in 2010. One of them is the Global Leaders’ Initiative that Mr. Satyarthi had clearly brought out in his key note address at the inaugural session of the III GCCL in Brasilia on October 2013. They discussed how this could be launched at the earliest as soon as possible and linked it with the broader agenda of child labour and education deficit. ITUC has expressed very keen desire to be a part of the core group on the proposed Worldwide Week of Action Against Child Slavery and to support the initiative all through.

Mr. Satyarthi also met colleagues at Education International (EI), including Ms Haldis Holst, Deputy Secretary General. They expressed serious concerns on the alarming situation of child labour in the cotton fields of Uzbekistan. They discussed a way of streamlining conducive environment for policy advocacy and dialogue against child labour in Uzbekistan. EI has overwhelmingly supported the idea of Worldwide Week of Action Against Child Slavery.

Mr. Satyarthi was also invited to Speak Truth to Power – Voices from beyond the dark at the European Parliament by its author Ms. Kerry Kennedy.  Speak Truth to Power is a project of the Robert F. Kennedy Centre for Justice and Human Rights. It is an initiative that highlights the experiences of courageous defenders from around the world to educate students and others about human rights, and urge them to take action.

In the run up to the main event, an international press conference was organised in the afternoon where Mr. Satyarthi strongly argued that with 168 million child labourers across the globe and 85 million being in the worst forms it is not possible to attain improvement in other human rights indicators. He further raised concern and called upon the importing countries  to  put  in  place  regulatory  mechanisms  to  hold  corporations  accountable  for human rights violations in their supply chains in other countries. On 19 February 2014, Parliamentarians from the EU and Hollywood stars performed Speak Truth to Power in Brussels and hailed the monologues of Human Rights Defenders including that of Mr. Satyarthi. At the end of this event, it was proposed (in the European Parliament) that the stories of Human Rights Defenders should be made a compulsory element of the curriculum for all schools across the continent.