How many of us actually think about child-slavery and trafficking when buying discounted branded goods (clothes, bags, toys, decorative pieces, cosmetics etc.)? How many of us think of anything other than ourselves and our needs when giant, attention-grabbing hoardings flash the words ‘ON SALE’ at us on shopping sprees? The most common answer is: NONE. And why would we? The collective amnesia of the human species deletes whatever we’ve studied about child labour, slavery and trafficking in school and we conveniently forget these lessons when going about our daily lives. We forget that the price of child labour is, FREE.
Directed by Derek Doneen, ‘The Price of Free’ is a documentary film on 2014 Nobel Prize winner, Kailash Satyarthi and the Bachpan Bachao Aandolan (BBA) founded by him. The film attempts to further audience interest in the activist’s work, generated by the Nobel committee, giving us an inside glimpse into the workings of the BBA and their rescue operations.
Narrated in equal parts by Kailash Satyarthi and Maya Sampat Patel, the film begins with a raid on a seedy, one room sealing factory employing children, conducted by BBA with the help of the police. The cameramen keep pace with Satyarthi and his volunteers as they try to break down doors, chase the henchmen and free the children hidden under gunny sacks on the terrace in the scorching Delhi heat. The rescued kids appear confused and shaken up, especially little Karim, who is on the verge of tears. Satyarthi and team load these children into a minivan and take them to Mukti Ashram, a non-profit dedicated solely to the recovery and rehabilitation of rescued child slaves, situated in Kalkaji, New Delhi.
As the audience, we are given an insightful peek into the workings of the activists employed by the Bachpan Bachao Aandolan as they help the rescued children understand their right to freedom and education. Jason Carpenter’s animations trace the history of Satyarthi’s movement and bring his trials and tribulations to life. He repeatedly emphasizes his sole mission that, “Every child should be free to be a child” and the team works tirelessly to find the kids’ parents, while also helping them come to terms with their new-found freedom. It doesn’t take much to understand the vicious cycle of poverty and the lack of education that push these parents to sell their children to work as manual labourers at a measly price. With the spike in the sales of discounted merchandise, especially by known U.S. brands, the need for cheap labour has increased prompting an increase in use of child labour.
At Mukti Ashram however, the children are given a choice – they can go back home and enroll at the local school or stay back at Mukti Ashram and pursue a wholistic education with the permission of their parents. Satyarthi’s and his wife’s interactions with the kids are endearing and they treat every child like their very own. Parallelly in the film, an undercover agent wanders through the snaking gullies of Tughlaq Road in pursuit of Sonu, a child whose parents have been looking for him. The twist in this story is horrifying, to say the least.
As informative as the film attempts to be, Doneen employs certain ‘emotionally manipulative’ cinematic tactics to heighten the audiences feeling of sympathy. The film refuses to ask questions, not about Kailash’s controversial public image and certainly not about the funding the BBA receives to be able house so many rescued children and give them a proper life. By using highspeed shots of the children playing and laughing at Mukti Ashram or seemingly staged conversations between them about the atrocities they’ve faced, the film panders to the sentiments of foreign funders rather than objectively report on a global issue. The closing credits reveal how every country has ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, except the United States of America, the largest producer of branded, consumable goods. Whatever its drawbacks, this documentary will certainly open your eyes to the problem of child labour and make you think about your purchases and the brutalities that back them.
The film is available for viewing on YouTube.