Special Feature: World Day Against Trafficking in Persons

UNODC Conversations: Nobel Peace Laureate Kailash Satyarthi Urges Citizens, Governments to "Act Together" to End Human Trafficking


New Delhi, India/July 30, 2018: Nobel Peace Laureate and renowned child rights activist Mr. Kailash Satyarthi urged citizens to speak out and take a stand against trafficking in persons, while calling sexual abuse of children and women a "moral epidemic" in the society. In an exclusive interaction with UNODC South Asia's Samarth Pathak , Mr. Satyarthi also voiced support to the Trafficking in Persons Bill 2018, welcoming its passage in the Lok Sabha (Lower House of the Indian Parliament) last week.    

Watch the complete video here:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lXMze9rd6QI

Following are selected excerpts from the discussion 

Q: As an advocate of human rights, how has your journey been so far and what are the challenges you have encountered?

Kailash Satyarthi: I feel accomplished and more optimistic every day. I can recall in 1980, when I gave up my career as an electrical engineer and started my fight against child slavery and child labour, it was a non-issue at that time and people thought it was just a part of life's ongoing issues like poverty. It was most difficult to make people understand how this was injustice and denial of human rights, since child rights had not been articulated and acknowledged by then.

In 1989-90, when UN Conventions on the Rights of the Child came, people gradually started raising the issue and paying attention to it. In a way, I saw my journey from complete ignorance and denial, to mockery, to opposition and violent reactions, to an eventual consensus that issues of child slavery and child trafficking cannot be ignored in the present time. 

Q: What is the present situation with regard to Trafficking in Persons in India and South Asia?

Kailash Satyarthi: Human trafficking is one of the largest illicit trades in the world with its annual earning ranging from 50 billion US dollars to 150 billion US dollars, according to various estimates. Millions of children, women and men are bought and sold like animals.

Ironically, South Asia boasts of a great heritage and culture, however, the issue of human trafficking remains a critical challenge in the region with women and children as its worst victims. Within those countries and particularly in India women are trafficked from Assam, Odisha, and other North-Eastern states. Children are trafficked from these states and are sold into slavery not within India but also to neighbouring countries like Bangladesh, Pakistan and Nepal.

Cross-border trafficking as well as regional trafficking within the country are some of the most prevalent issues we are facing. Some countries have stringent and effective laws while others don't, but all these countries are committed to the enforcement of these laws as their constitutional mandate. These countries have also taken a conscious decision to support the Sustainable Development Goals and when we talk about SDG number 8.7, which is exclusively for these kinds of issues, our moral, political and social responsibility becomes much more than just fulfilling these SDGs.

Q: What is the impact of human trafficking from the perspective of the victims? 

Kailash Satyarthi: Trafficking is one of the worst forms of human slavery and is the denial of human dignity, freedom, and humility. Once the victims are trapped into any form of slavery, like bonded labour, prostitution, or forced beggary, they completely lose their self-esteem and self-dignity and tend to internalise these feelings. So, hopelessness and helplessness gets added to their psychological trauma and agony.

Only a few months ago, we had freed a group of children who were working in Delhi. They were all trafficked from Bihar and neighbouring states, and had been confined to work in a jeans workshop, which was running in a basement. When we freed the children and they were sent to Mukti Ashram- our short-term rehabilitation centre in Delhi, I was surprised to see their red eyes and tears. It was shocking to learn that those children had not seen sunlight in the last 3 years; they had trouble adjusting to sunlight when came out.

Similarly, many of them could not walk because they were forced to work in one posture for years. This kind of situation makes them lose all hope and faith. Girls who are freed from places of prostitution and who have been victims of sexual abuse and violence, tend to lose their essence of human being. Therefore, restoration of their sense of freedom is very important. In a conversation with these children, when we told them we shall take care of their education, a 12-year-old girl, who had undergone subhuman conditions in her past, said "I am no more a child". This is the extent to which these children lose their innocence and freedom.

Q: What are your thoughts on the issue of sexual violence and how can it be addressed?

Kailash Satyarthi: It is again ironical, that India and most South Asian countries are making so many advancements in technology, economy, and all other spheres of life, even digitalisation is on the rise, but we are unable to protect our children inside our own homes. Children aren't safe anywhere, because predators could be in the form of their uncles, relatives, friends of father, or drivers and teachers in school.

I call child sexual abuse a moral epidemic and its time we waged a war on this crime. Initiatives are required from all stakeholders; we cannot say that alone the government will solve everything. I believe all sections of society, parents, teachers, faith institutions, NGOs, need to come together and raise their voice to break the silence of these victims and destroy the social stigma due to which, these people are unable to seek help.

The victims' silence further victimises them, because social norms and taboos do not let them speak up. 

Q: How do you perceive the response of governments and civil society so far in addressing the issue of human trafficking?

Kailash Satyarthi : In India, we don't have effective laws to stop human trafficking. That's why, we organised a long march across the country called the Bharat Yatra, where we went across 23 states, covered almost 12,000 kilometres, and more than 1.2 million people physically joined the march. This march was against two issues: one was child sexual abuse and the other was trafficking.

Trafficking should not remain a kind of mystery for the people, or people should not feel that they are not affected by it, or that it affects only a very small segment of the society, or that trafficking is only restricted to forced prostitution for that matter. We wanted to demystify trafficking and spearhead a people's movement against it.

One of our demands was to enact a strong law. We have to take legal measures for prevention, prosecution and speedy justice delivery as well as to ensure rehabilitation of survivors and victims. We have been demanding for quite some time but we built up a strong social movement against human trafficking through this Bharat Yatra. We must have a strong law as soon as possible. Our demand was heard. A strong Anti-Trafficking Bill was drafted and approved by the Union Cabinet in February 2018.

It is absolutely heartening to see that the Anti- Trafficking Bill 2018 was tabled and discussed threadbare in Lok Sabha on 26 th July and was passed. Now the Bill will be discussed in Rajya Sabha, for which I urge all the members of the Upper House of our Parliament to extend support for its speedy passage.

Politicians can wait for the next elections, but those who are sold today, those who are trapped into slavery today, those who are coerced and trafficked today, their life is lost. Their humanity is lost, their future is lost, and they cannot wait. So, we should have a strong sense of urgency to pass this effective Bill.

Q: Collaborations are important. How can stakeholders--the government, civil society and corporates, among others--work together to address this crime?

Kailash Satyarthi: Trafficking in persons is not a localised crime. The economic threats are spread all across the world and are connected. Social media is also being used. I think in most cases the social media and internet services are being manipulated and misused for trafficking. Therefore, it is necessary that all stakeholders, may it be the civil society, the state or the corporates, should come together.

A large number of trafficking is carried out for the purpose of supply chain. Children, women and men are being trafficked and then engaged in supply chains of companies-be it big, small, national or international. So, corporate engagement and partnership in solving the problem is absolutely critical. All the government agencies must converge in this fight-it is not just the responsibility of one ministry or one department; it is a cross-departmental and inter-ministerial issue where all of us have to work together.

I would also call upon faith institutions and their leaders, because they have huge outreach and enormous following: hundreds of thousands of people attend their congregations. Faith leaders can educate their followers and can ask them to stop trafficking in persons. If the followers and devotees of the faith leaders and godmen, are travelling in a bus or in a train, and if they suspect that somebody is illegally transporting children or women, they should immediately report to the police. These kinds of sermons and instructions can also come from faith institutions, because they have devotees and followers who can do anything and everything for them. All sections of the society must work hand in hand. The media also has a very important role to play here. It is not enough to just to expose the issue and forget, they should follow the case until it reaches to some logical conclusion. This means that the traffickers, perpetrators are given effective and fast punishment, and the survivors get speedy justice.

Q: How can citizens lend their support to the fight against human trafficking?

Kailash Satyarthi : I would say that the world has made immense progress: we have conquered Mars, we are able to take close-up photos of Pluto, we are running so fast in this world of technology and high-speed internet. However, are we really ashamed when we learn that human beings are sold and bought; resold and re-bought? Young children are enslaved and pushed into prostitution. How can we allow this to continue? As human beings it is a collective moral responsibility to end this.

We cannot call ourselves civilised or cultured or religious until and unless we put an end to the menace of slavery and trafficking in persons. We have to be vigilant around us and must have the courage to speak out. We should raise our voice. We must demand for stringent laws and their speedy, effective implementation.

Many of us use social media: why cannot we responsibly speak out when we come to know about any incident of human trafficking? At the tap of a button on our mobile phones a strong letter or email can reach out to the law enforcement agencies or the politicians. We can raise our voice like this and put pressure for the right cause in the right way.

As consumers, we have to be much more responsible. We should ask whether children, women and men (who are victims of trafficking) are enslaved in the supply chains for producing those goods. If we have valid reasons to believe so then we should have the courage to say no to such goods. More important is to demystify the trafficking business, expose it as much as possible, speak out and oppose it. Awareness is the first step of social change. So we have to be aware, and we have to also make others aware against human trafficking.  

Q: How do you see UNODC's role in addressing this crime?

Kailash Satyarthi : UNODC has been playing a very important role. I have had an opportunity to collaborate with UNODC in the past, and I look forward to collaborate in the future also, not only in India only but also globally. If we all have to ensure speedy achievement of Sustainable Development Goals--particularly Goal 8.7--then UNODC has to coordinate with the other UN agencies and ensure that we make this world free of human trafficking. 


(As told to Samarth Pathak , Communications Officer, UNODC Regional Office for South Asia)