Nobel laureate and child rights activist Kailash Satyarthi reached Delhi after completing his 11,000-km-long Bharat yatra across 22 States, from Kashmir to Kanyaumari, against child sexual abuse.
Speaking to Soumya Pillai , Mr. Satyarthi, said his yatra was aimed at providing a platform to several children, youth and their families to speak out about the sexual abuse and violence they faced and how it scarred them.
After touring almost 22 States, you met with President Ram Nath Kovind today (Monday). What were the core issues that you discussed with him?
A major issue that I experienced through my work in all these years and from the places I visited as part of the Bharat yatra is that children in India are suffocating because of the diktat we feed to them in the garb of family, honour and dignity. They want to speak, but there is no outlet.
I have requested to the President to order the creation of National Children’s Tribunal, an exclusive court to address crimes against children, which would ensure time-bound disposal of cases. Senior judges should be part of this tribunal.
In most States, the pendency of such cases is almost 90% to 95%. There should also be child-friendly police stations where training should be given to police officers to handle these cases more sensitively.
What was your experience during the Bharat Yatra?
There is a major conflict between children’s aspirations to grow and the social taboos they face. In most cases of abuse, children are taught to remain silent and not report the case because of family honour and the stigma attached such crimes. Many children came running to hug me and shake hands with me during the yatra and thanked me for providing a platform to them to speak up about their traumatic experiences.
My aim was that children and youth should break free from the stigma which is caused by a sick mentality of the society. It is this stigma which gives rise to victimisation, where children, especially girls, are made to feel vulnerable. The victims have no reason to feel guilty.
There is mass apathy from the society, and this fans fear among victims and their families. Somebody had to challenge it. Change is knocking on the door. It is time that the politicians, police and the judiciary listen to it and awaken.
Were the incidents of child abuse different in different States?
There were some issues particular to some States. For example, in sensitive regions such as Srinagar, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, there were cases of violence against children. In Punjab, on the other hand, many children were pushed towards drugs from an early age. We tried to address these issues, while keeping a broader umbrella of violence and abuse.
Was this yatra just an initiative to provide a platform to these people, or were the issues taken up with the authorities?
We took up the issues of the public with the government. We also tied to involve religious leaders on the same platform so that the problem of abuse can be addressed head on.
Over 40 lakh people came forward to take a pledge to show zero tolerance towards cases of sexual abuse. Apart from this, religious leaders were made to admit that cases of abuse happen and they should denounce those who abuse children.
In many States, chief ministers came forward and addressed the issue of violence against children. In Kashmir, MP and Punjab, the CMs assured that laws will be framed for stricter punishments for the culprits.