December 9, 2014 / 2:08 PM / 4 years ago

Apathy biggest bar to ending child slavery: Nobel prize winner

OSLO (Reuters) - Apathy is the biggest obstacle to eliminating forced child labor and the world needs more secular education to reduce intolerance, Nobel Peace Prize winner Kailash Satyarthi said on Tuesday.

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Kailash Satyarthi speaks during a news conference in Oslo December 9, 2014. REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett

In Oslo, where he will receive the award on Wednesday, Satyarthi told Reuters the problem was not religion itself but people who hide behind it for economic and political gain.

“Education brings tolerance to societies, which brings peace, global brotherhood and mutual respect for each other,” Satyarthi, 60, from India, said.

“There should be more value-oriented education with more human values,” said Satyarthi, who won this year’s Nobel Peace Prize with Pakistani teenager Malala Yousafzai for their fight against the oppression of children and their right to education.

The United Nations estimates that around 150 million children are routinely engaged in paid or unpaid work with children in sub-Saharan Africa at greatest risk, where up to a quarter of those aged between 5 and 14 are forced to work.

“The single biggest difficulty has been apathy,” Satyarthi said. “People are getting more and more materialistic and more consumeristic.”

He said there was a lack of compassion around the world for the poorest and most vulnerable in society, who lacked the means and power to help themselves.

Education has been a major issue in India since the Hindu nationalist government came to power in May, with critics citing a move to teach the superiority of Hindu values and mythology at the cost of academic rigor, going against the grain of secularism that runs through multi-faith modern India.

Malala, shot in the head by the Taliban in 2012 for advocating girls’ right to education, has dominated Noble coverage in the media but Satyarthi said he did not mind.

“I never in my life tried to be in the limelight because I work with children who are most invisible,” Satyarthi said. “My cause had remained invisible for years and so did I.

“Malala is a wonderful girl, she’s like my daughter, I adore and respect her a lot.”

Satyarthi dismissed the idea that violence against girls in the Muslim world was a factor of religion itself.

“The very meaning of Islam is love and humanity,” he said. “Some people use politics, businesses or religion for their short-term benefits and gains.”

Satyarthi, who gave up a career as an electrical engineer in 1980 to campaign against child labor, has headed various forms of peaceful protest. His non-government organization Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA) has been credited with freeing more than 80,000 child laborers in India over 30 years. He estimates that about 60 million children are still at work.

Editing by Janet Lawrence

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