This year’s two Nobel Peace Prize winners have already benefitted thousands of Nepali children and will inspire them
Kul Chandra Gautam
The barbaric attack and killing of innocent school children in Peshawar this week is a poignant reminder of the relevance of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize awarded to Kailash Satyarthi of India and Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan, and their tireless advocacy and activism in support of children’s right to quality basic education, and against hazardous child labour. Their work and example is a source of pride and inspiration to the children of Nepal, thousands of whom have already benefitted from their initiatives.
Satyarthi will be visiting Nepal this weekend, meeting political leaders, child rights activists, and Nepali youngsters whom he has helped rescue from the bonded labour. His Bachpan Bachao Andolan rescued many Nepali teenagers trafficked to India to work in slave-like conditions in garment and leather factories, circus troupes, dance bars and brothels. Nepali child rights organisations like BASEand CWIN have been partners in his celebrated Global March against Child Labour.
In the 1990s, Satyarthi helped establish an innovative organisation called RugMark, now known asGoodWeave, to help end child labour in the carpet industry. At that time there were over one million children weaving carpets in South Asia toiling in dusty, dirty looms. At an age when they should be going to school, playing and developing their personality, children worked long hours, without any health care or proper sanitation and nutrition.
GoodWeave designed an ingenious scheme whereby in exchange for not employing children in their factories and supply chain, carpet manufacturers and exporters could tag a ‘child-labour free’ GoodWeave label on their products. Conscientious consumers in Europe and America who bought these carpets felt happy that they were not inadvertently condoning child labour.
GoodWeave promoted a market-based approach to foster social change. It charged a modest fee of 0.25 percent of the sale price from the exporter and 1.75 percent from the importer for its services – which included surprise inspection of factories to ascertain the presence or absence of child labour, rescue of children found there, help for their rehabilitation and education, improvement of working environment in the factories in terms of safety, sanitation, hygiene, and other facilities like breastfeeding breaks and child care facilities for working mothers.
With a growing demand from consumers for ethical products, and the cooperation of importers, GoodWeave was able to persuade owners and managers of carpet factories to voluntarily join its program, and allow inspectors and social workers.
The results were impressive. Within a decade, prevalence of child labour in the carpet industry in South Asia declined by 75 per cent. So far, 11 million carpets with GoodWeave certification have been sold. This is still a small number in the global market of handmade carpets, but GoodWeave now serves as a model of a voluntary industry initiative to combat forced and bonded child labor and human trafficking.
Two decades ago, hand-made Tibetan carpets were among Nepal’s top exports. Factories employed many children, but after GoodWeave started its operation in Nepal in 1995, several hundred carpet manufacturers joined it voluntarily and started following more child-friendly employment practices. Child labour declined drastically, as unemployed adult carpet workers took their place. The Nepal GoodWeave Foundation provided valuable service for the education and rehabilitation of children rescued from carpet factories. Working conditions in many factories improved as day care facilities and breastfeeding breaks were provided for working mothers. In partnership with the government and other NGOs, GoodWeave even started preventive programs in communities that were the principal source of child trafficking.
Unfortunately, the combination of deteriorating security situation during the decade of Maoist insurgency and the global economic downturn affected Nepal’s economy, including the carpet industry. A shrinking global market, the rising cost of raw materials, and extortion by militant trade unions led to closure of many factories. Recently, the massive exodus of adult migrant labourers has led to increased risk of child labour in domestic industries, including in the supply chain of carpet industry.
As vividly portrayed in a new GoodWeave campaign, Stand with Sanju inspired by the true story of a Nepali girl who went from carpet loom to classroom, Kailash Satyarthi’s campaign against child labour continues to be relevant in Nepal.
Quality education is the best antidote to child labour, and this is where Malala’s campaign to promote girls’ education is also relevant for Nepal. Although Nepal has reached virtual gender parity in primary schools, many parents send their sons to better quality private schools while daughters are enrolled in government schools with high dropout rates. Malala’s campaign including through the Global Partnership for Education mobilises significant financial support for basic education in Nepal.
Kul Chandra Gautam, a former Deputy Executive Director at UNICEF, is a Board Member of GoodWeave International, originally founded by Kailash Satyarthi and a Champion for the Global Partnership for Education along with Malala Yousafzai.