My dear children of the world … Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, Excellencies, distinguished members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, dear brother Tom Harkin, brothers and sisters, and my dear daughter Malala.
From this podium of peace and humanity, I am deeply honoured to recite a mantra from the ancient texts of wisdom, Vedas. This mantra carries a prayer, an aspiration and a resolve that has the potential to liberate humanity from all man-made crises.
Let’s walk together. In the pursuit of global progress, not a single person should be left out or left behind in any corner of the world, from East to West, from South to North.
Let’s speak together, let our minds come together! Learning from the experiences of our ancestors, let us together create knowledge for all that benefits all. I bow to my late parents, to my motherland India, and to the mother earth. With a warm heart I recall how thousands of times, I have been liberated, each time I have freed a child from slavery.
In the first smile of freedom on their beautiful faces, I see the Gods smiling. I give the biggest credit of this honour to my movement’s Kaalu Kumar, Dhoom Das and Adarsh Kishore from India and Iqbal Masih from Pakistan who made the supreme sacrifice for protecting the freedom and dignity of children. I humbly accept this award on behalf of all such martyrs, my fellow activists across the world and my countrymen.
My journey from the great land of Lord Buddha, Guru Nanak and Mahatma Gandhi; India to Norway is a connect between the two centres of global peace and brotherhood, ancient and modern. Friends, the Nobel Committee has generously invited me to present a “lecture.” Respectfully, I am unable to do that. Because, I am representing here – the sound of silence. The cry of innocence. And, the face of invisibility. I represent millions of those children who are left behind and that’s why I have kept an empty chair here as a reminder.
I have come here only to share the voices and dreams of our children – because they are all our children – [gesture to everyone in the audience]. I have looked into their frightened and exhausted eyes. I have held their injured bodies and felt their broken spirits.
Twenty years ago, in the foothills of the Himalayas, I met a small, skinny child labourer. He asked me: “Is the world so poor that it cannot give me a toy and a book, instead of forcing me to take a gun or a tool?”
I met with a Sudanese child-soldier. He was kidnapped by an extremist militia. As his first training lesson, he was forced to kill his friends and family. He asked me: “What is my fault?”
Friends, all the great religions teach us to care for our children. Jesus said: “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to them.” The Holy Quran says: “Kill not your children because of poverty.”
Friends! There is no greater violence than to deny the dreams of our children. Therefore … I refuse to accept that all the temples and mosques and churches and prayer houses have no place for the dreams of our children. I refuse to accept that the world is so poor, when just one week of global military expenditure can bring all the children to classrooms. I refuse to accept that all the laws and constitutions, police and judges are unable to protect our children. I refuse to accept that the shackles of slavery can ever be stronger than the quest for freedom. I REFUSE TO ACCEPT here.
My only aim in life is that every child is free to be a child, – free to grow and develop, – free to eat, sleep, and see daylight, – free to laugh and cry, – free to play and learn, – free to go to school, and above all, – free to dream.
I have the privilege of working with many courageous people who have the same aim. We have never given up against any threat or attack and we never will. We have made progress in the last couple of decades. We have reduced the number of out-ofschool children by half. We have reduced the number of child labourers by a third. We have reduced child mortality and malnutrition, and we have prevented millions of child deaths. But, let us make no mistake, great challenges still remain.
Friends! The biggest challenge or biggest crisis knocking on the doors of humankind is fear and intolerance. We have utterly failed our children in imparting an education. An education that gives the meaning and objective of life. An education that gives a sense of global citizenship among the youth. I am afraid that the day is not very far away when the cumulative result of this failure, will culminate in an unprecedented violence, and that will be suicidal for humankind.
Rights, security, hope can only be restored through education. Young people like Malala … I’ve started calling her my daughter Malala not just Malala … So my daughter Malala and other daughters including Kayanat.. in fact.. two Kayanats, and Shazia, and the daughters from Africa, and from all over the world. They are rising up and choosing peace over violence, tolerance over extremism, and courage over fear. The solutions are emerging. But these solutions cannot be found in the deliberations in conferences alone, and cannot be found in prescriptions from a distance.
They lie in small groups and local organisations and individuals, who are confronting with the problem every day. Even if they remain unacknowledged, unrecognised and unknown to the world the solutions are with them.
We can do it … You may ask that – what can one person do? I would recall a story of my childhood: A heavy fire had broken out in the forest. All the animals were running away, including lion, the king of the forest. Suddenly, then he saw a tiny bird rushing towards the fire. He asked the bird, “What are you doing?” To the lion’s surprise, the bird replied “I am going to extinguish the fire.”
The lion laughed and said, “How can you do it keeping just one drop of water, in your beak?” The bird was adamant, and she said, “I am doing my bit.” Eighteen years ago, millions of individuals marched across the globe. And demanded a new international law for the abolition of worst form of child labour, and it has happened, we did it, millions of individuals did it. Friends! We live in an age of rapid globalisation. We are connected through high-speed Internet.
We exchange our goods and services in one single global market. Thousands of flights every day connect us from one corner to another corner of the globe. But there is one serious disconnect and there is a lack of compassion. Let us inculcate and transform these individuals’ compassion into a global compassion. Let us globalise compassion. Mahatma Gandhi said, “If we are to teach real peace in this world… we shall have to begin with the children.” I humbly add, let us unite the world through the compassion for our children.
I ask – Whose children are they who stitch footballs, yet never played with one? Whose children are they who harvest cocoa, yet have never tasted chocolate? Whose children are they who are dying of Ebola? Whose children are they who are kidnapped and held hostage? They are all our children. I remember an eight-year-old girl we rescued from intergenerational forced labour from stone quarries.
When she was sitting in my car right after her rescue, she asked me: “Why did you not come earlier?” Her angry question still shakes me – and has the power to shake the whole world. Her question is for all of us. What are we doing? What are we waiting for? How many girls will we allow to go without rescue? Children are questioning our inaction and watching our actions. We need collective actions with a sense of urgency.
Every single minute matters, every single child matters, every single childhood matters. Therefore, I challenge the passivity and pessimism surrounding our children. I challenge this culture of silence and this culture of passivity, this culture of neutrality. I call upon all the governments, intergovernmental agencies, businesses, faith leaders, workers, teachers and NGOs, and each one of us, to put an end to all forms of violence against children.
Slavery, trafficking, child marriages, child labour, sexual abuse, and illiteracy these things have no place in any civilised society. Friends, we can do this. Governments must make child -friendly policies, and invest in education and young people. Businesses must be more responsible, accountable and open to innovative partnerships.
Intergovernmental agencies must work together to accelerate action. Global civil society must rise above the business-as-usual and fragmented agendas. Faith leaders and institutions, and all of us must stand with our children. We must be bold, we must be ambitious, and we must have the will. We must keep our promises.
Over fifty years ago, on the first day of my school, I met a cobbler boy, my age sitting outside the gate of my school. I asked my teachers: “Why is he working outside? Why is he not with us in the school?” My teachers had no answer. One day, I gathered the courage to ask the boy’s father. He said: “Sir, I have never thought about it. We are born to work.” His answer made me angry. It still makes me angry. As a child, I had a vision of tomorrow.
A vision of that cobbler boy sitting with me in my classroom. Now, that tomorrow has become TODAY. I am TODAY, and you are TODAY. TODAY it is time for every child to have a right to life, right to freedom, right to health, right to education, right to safety, right to dignity, right to equality, and right to peace. TODAY, beyond the darkness, I see the smiling faces of our children in the blinking stars. TODAY, in every wave of every ocean, I see my children are playing and dancing.
TODAY, in every plant, in every tree, and mountain, I see our children growing freely with dignity. Friends, I want you to see and feel this TODAY inside you. My dear sisters and brothers, as I said many interesting things are happening today. May I please request you to put your hand close to your heart – close your eyes and feel the child inside you?
I am sure you can – Now, listen to that child. Listen please. Today, I see thousands of Mahatma Gandhis, Nelson Mandelas and Martin Luther Kings calling on us. Let us democratise knowledge. Let us universalise justice.
Together, let us globalise compassion! I call upon you in this room, and all across the world. I call for a march from exploitation to education, I call for a march from poverty to shared prosperity, a march from slavery to liberty, and a march from violence to peace.
Let us march from ignorance to awakening. Let us march from darkness to light. Let us march from mortality to divinity. Let us march!
– (Nobel Acceptance Speech by Kailash Satyarthi)