"Unfortunately, an estimated 50 million children are working as full-time labourers," he said in an address at the Rashtrapati Bhavan, quoting civil society estimates.
"Many of them are trapped in bonded labour, trafficking, prostitution and forced beggary," he said.
Satyarthi, who won the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize along with Pakistan's Malala Yousafzai, was speaking on the opening day of the first ever Visitors Conference that drew eminent personalities.
"Education is the biggest enabler, equalizer and empowering device," he said.
India cannot become an economic power unless it becomes a knowledge power, Satyarthi said.
"Whenever I visit higher educational institutions around the world, I feel proud to see Indians holding key academic and leadership positions.
"This was possible because they had the best opportunities for education.
"Imagine an India where all children in the country have that opportunity for the same quality, inclusive and equitable education," Satyarthi added.
The agenda for the three-day meet includes improving the quality of higher education to bring them at par with the world's best institutions, engagement of institutes of higher learning with community and society, and promotion of gender equity.