My dear children, my dear young leaders,
Today, I want to talk to you about something important. But before I begin, I would like to ask you a few questions. I am certain that you have the answers to these questions. About four decades ago, when I was as young as you, I set about asking the same questions, and the result of that is for all to see.
In your day to day life, you must have noticed differentiations based on religions, languages, races and regions. You might have also encountered gender inequalities and the problem of caste biases. It’s possible that some of you might have accepted this as a part of the social system. But is there anyone reading this, who rejects such biases?
You all must have seen how in the garb of poverty, backwardness and community, children are forced into child labour. Children are intentionally maimed and forced to beg on the road and streets. In fact, woven in your very clothes and shoes could be the life of a young child labourer. In the world’s biggest democracy, even in its metropolitan cities girls and women do not feel safe. It’s often none other than a teacher, a neighbor and at times even a family member who perpetrate unspeakable abuses on them. Does this boil your blood? Does it make you furious?
You might know that 300 crore of our world’s population is youth of under 25 years of age. In our country, 65 crore people are under 25 years. But have you seen the youth bring prioritized anywhere in the everyday functioning of a household or in our religious customs or in the government’s policies and expenses? Are your wishes and aspirations respected in a decision – big or small?
While you mull these questions in your mind, I want to say this: For those who believe that children and youth are the future of this country, I strongly beg to differ. It is you who are our present, as well as our future. I also disagree with those who propend that young ones are not yet mature or that you are hasty and reckless and not fit to take decisions for yourself.
For those of you who trust good education and fat paychecks for a secure life, you are missing the complete picture. The increasing global warming, the shortage of our water, the poisoning of our air along with the shrinking national identities, widening unemployment and surge in terrorism are all common dangers facing all of us. Common solutions are needed for a common future. It is we who have to come forward for these solutions.
Today, hundreds of young people like you become victims of slavery, starvation, prostitution and more. Girls are being sold for sex slavery for the price of a cigarette pack, by extremists. Boys as young as 12, are forced to wield guns. This is a reality faced by thousands every day.
It is amidst these realities that I, along with young people from all over the world, are going to start the biggest youth movement ever recorded in the world history.
December 11, 2016, is the day of shooting for the stars. This day, the 100 million for 100 million worldwide campaign will begin. The campaign will have the youth build a society in which not only will you realise your dream but also speak up for the rights and dreams of your unprivileged brother and sisters. In this society, you will take the decisions for your own future, while deriving from the learnings of the experienced.
I invocate you, to join us in being the creator of this new civilization. Figure new innovative ways of protesting and deriving solutions, from writing online petitions to supporting those who do social good. Boycott the use of those services and products that are made by children. Become a volunteer to get more children enrolled in the neighbourhood school, or raise awareness about education among the poor or write to the education minister demanding higher education budgets. We’re going to employ technology and social media to reach out to you and give you the means of becoming the voices of those who are exploited everywhere.
It is my desire and belief that together we will be able to wipe off the name of child slavery and trafficking in the next five years from the face of the country. We would fight for education to be made available to every single child in the country and get governments and society to prioritise children.
In my last 35 years of struggle for child rights, I have learnt a few things from young people. I have met hundreds of children and youth like you from around 140 countries. I’ve found that the energy and passion of the youth is unprecedented. I also know that your desire to prove yourself and to make a difference in the society is no less. I don’t believe in run-of-the-mill solutions, nor do I blindly accept answers in the name of religion, science, politics or customs. I trust the ones who have the grit to ask questions and search for answers. And I trust the power of honesty and accountability over the myriad institutions.
The next time someone asks, where are the hearts that ache for others, or the eyes that feel other’s pain? If they ask, where are the minds that can nurture a world of compassion, love and brotherhood? Tell them, those hearts and minds and eyes are yours. Hidden within you is a hero and a change maker. Embrace it and be the change. Because when you do, the dawn of a new revolution will be waiting for you.
11 December 2016