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With about 7,000 children trafficked in India every year, child rights activist and Nobel Peace laureate Kailash Satyarthi, who set out on Monday on a Kanyakumari-Delhi "Bharat Yatra", to focus attention on the issue, hopes that Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government will bring in stringent legislation to curb the menace.
Satyarthi said he had spoken to prime ministers in the past but no one took the issue seriously like Modi did, though the Prime Minister had not given him a specific deadline by when Parliament would pass the proposed legislation against child trafficking.
"It is the first time a Prime Minister or any Prime Minister has taken it up," Satyarthi told IANS in an interview before he left for Kanyakumari, adding that he was hoping that Modi would prioritise the legislation.
The 63-year-old Satyarthi, who heads the Bachpan Bachao Aandolan (Save The Childhood Movement), said the Prime Minister had personally written to him, assuring that "since the government is in power in both the houses (of Parliament)" something can be done about the legislation.
"I can't recall any other Prime Minister writing anything about trafficking like Modi had done," he said referring to the letter, adding, however, that no time-frame had been laid down.
A Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill 2016, drafted by Ministry of Women and Child Development, aims to create a strong legal, economic and social environment against trafficking.
The draft bill envisages the creation of a fund for rehabilitation of victims of trafficking. The proposed bill seeks to establish special courts in each district of the country and special prosecutors to fast-track the trials and increase prosecution.
The draft bill is currently awaiting cabinet approval, after which it will be tabled in Parliament and referred to a select committee before being taken up for debate and passing. This process could take up to a year, if not more.
Satyarthi said the BBA is hoping for a stringent and comprehensive law that includes severe and time-bound punishment for offenders and detailed rehabilitation measures for survivors.
Asked how the idea for the yatra was born, then he said it was not his first and that it was a "time-tested strategy" -- and he went a quarter century down memory lane.
"The first major yatra was organised from Bihar to Delhi in 1993 to raise the issue of child labour.
It was not a big issue back then and people thought it was a part of life," the Nobel laureate said.
In 1995, he organised another yatra for the same cause along the length of India, from Kanyakumari to Delhi, in over two months.
After the yatra, the government amended the law to broaden activities which were considered as child labour and it was a big success, he said.
"But the major yatra was the 'Siksha Yatra' in 2001 from Kanyakumari to Delhi to make education a fundamental right which needed an amendment of the Constitution. This required two-thirds majority in parliament and we were able to achieve it," he said.
"I believe in the power of the ordinary citizen more than any political party as he's not doing it for himself, but for the society and it's pure," he said.
Satyarthi was also part of "Global March Against Child Labour" in which the heads of 71 countries took part in different legs of the campaign.
He said the current yatra took a year to plan.
"The core team travelling would be around 150-strong and each day they will walk around 10 to 15 km; at least 10,000 people are expected to join us," he said.
Satyarthi said that he will address three mass meetings a day, and there will also be smaller meetings.
He said that groups would be formed in schools and colleges during the course of the yatra and they would then fight against child trafficking and sexual abuse.
Asked about the problems he faced to organise the yatra across 22 states, traversing 11,000 km, he said with a smile: "The problem is positive. People are actually competing among themselves to host us and the response is overwhelming."
(Nikhil Babu can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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