As India bathes itself in self-congratulatory glory with the announcement from Oslo honouring Kailash Satyarthi with the Nobel Peace Prize for 2014, some introspection is in order. Satyarthi would not have needed to struggle for this cause if India had ensured that the fundamental rights codified in the Constitution were enforced uniformly, so that children’s rights would be protected.

Child labour is not an invisible problem in India.

It is everywhere—countless number of Chhotu and Munni polish our shoes on the roads; sing Bollywood bhajans to get some coins from us; rush to bring us tea at tea-stalls on highways; perform cruel acrobatic stunts in the open to attract our attention and gain our sympathy; work as errand-boys for shops and trades; weave our carpets; stitch our clothes; carry the dhobi’s laundry; don’t flinch when their ears are pulled hard as we punish them for a job not done properly; beaten up by teachers if they get their sums wrong; sometimes forced to marry before it is legal for them to do so; trafficked for sexual gratification; make the fireworks and match-sticks with which we celebrate our festivals; sweep our floors and wipe our kitchen sinks; and too often die in horrendous road and rail accidents.

Fourteen million children die before they reach the age of 5.

Twenty-eight per cent of the children are born with low-birth weight.

Forty-six per cent are breast-fed for less than six months.

Some 16% are severely underweight, 48% are moderate-to-severely stunted, and 29% do not have access to iodized salt.

Between a third and a quarter of India’s children have not received adequate immunization.

Only half the children receive pre-primary education and some 40% drop out from schools before they reach the eighth grade.

And many of those who drop out are from poor, dalit, tribal, or Muslim families.

The right way to honour Satyarthi is by our taking steps—immediately—to ensure that Chhotu and Munni go to school, get to eat nourishing meals, and can aspire to be what they wish to be in future, and escape the tight grip of poverty, exploitation, violence, sexual assault, and humiliation that so many are subjected to, day after day.

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