The last few weeks have been landmark in the global development discourse. The United Nations brought in a new development agenda for the world, which is a charter of our collective vision of the next 15 years. Over 200 world leaders descended upon New York to pledge to achieve 17 goals, called the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDPs), in unison.
For me, and for the world’s most underprivileged children, these goals are special. While the erstwhile Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) tackled poverty, hunger, among other problems, this is the first time when crucial child issues have gained spotlight. It is a clear victory for millions of children reeling under various forms of abuse.
The world has finally recognised that if child labour, slavery, trafficking, and violence against children continue, we will fail to accomplish any of the other goals. If 17 crore child labourers continue to miss school, we will fail to achieve education goals. If these children keep doing the jobs of the world’s 20 crore unemployed, we will miss employment goals. If 5.5 million children stay stuck in slavery, enslaved in mines and factories, losing their tender organs every minute, we will lose our health goals. Fortunately, the UN SDGs have understood that without child development, human development is impossible.
Finally, children’s cries have been considered. It is a major win for civil society members who have been fighting tooth and nail for decades to make children a priority through policy, budgets and strong enforcement measures.
For years, my organisation Global March and our partners have been spearheading a worldwide movement to bring these issues to the notice of global agenda formulators. As part of the movement, we ran a campaign that garnered 550,000 signatures on a petition to include strong language against slavery in the SDGs. Through the invaluable contribution of fellow activists, workers, educators, and businesses, the campaign became a resounding success with the inclusion of ‘slavery’ in one of the targets of the SDGs.
The success lies not only in the text; it was also evident in the many events that held centre stage in New York this time. In the Global Education First Initiative event, several world leaders, ranging from UN Secretary General to various Presidents and First Ladies, promised to achieve education for all in the next 15 years. In the Up for School event, a petition with a whopping 10 million signatures was submitted to the United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education, Gordon Brown. I feel more confident now to be a part of these initiatives.
It was gladdening to see children, leaders, activists on one stage cheering for education for all 59 million out-of-school children. Also heartening was the passion of corporate and government leaders, who joined the cause of education of refugee children in the Global Business Coalition for Education. In a remarkable example of what concerted efforts can achieve, out of four million Syrian refugee children, almost half have already been brought to school owing to the efforts of this coalition.
Now, the targets are cut out in front of us. What is needed is immediate, trailblazing and sustained action.
In my address at the SDG summit in New York, I appealed to all to stop accepting business as usual.
I urged that the governments prioritise child-related SDGs in national legislation and planning. They must invest in them fully, and take accountability measures to ensure enforcement. In this context, India still lags behind most of the countries, in having a strong law against child labour. If the government of India aims to etch a golden development story, it has to take crores of children of the country into account.
I encouraged civil society, faith organisations, governments and businesses to build collaborations with each other for the benefit of children. In the last decade, corporates and civil society have become equal actors as state and innovative partnerships between all are imperative for achieving global targets.
I asked businesses to shoulder their responsibility in making a better world by pursuing business with compassion. They have the power, funds and technology needed to bring about social change. Globalisation of knowledge, of economy and of products is rampant; let us turn it into the globalisation of human responsibility too.
Most importantly, I have faith in the youth, my beacons of inspiration, the agents of change, to use their energy and enthusiasm constructively. The youth today yearn to do something for the world, but they have limited choices. We have noticed that the inability to channel their energy into positive solutions has proven disastrous.
All the promises, all the pledges, will be of no avail if we do not include the youth and children in solution-making. Let us create a youth movement that gives us change-makers, leaders and rewriters of history.
Now that we are back to our respective countries, away from the buzzing power corridors of New York, let us not lose that passion. I have written letters to Presidents or heads of State of each of the 193 UN member countries, to live up to the promises made to children from the lofty pedestal of the UN. Today, change is knocking on the door in the form of those raring for development, inclusivity and peace. And that change will occur. Let these goals not just spell victory of children, but victory of the humankind and of our beloved earth.
( Kailash Satyarthi is a child rights campaigner and Nobel Peace Laureate, 2014 )