The fantastic 2013 drama Siddharth follows a poor family’s search for their son, a victim of child trafficking. 12-year-old Siddharth takes a factory job in a distant city for a month to earn money for his younger sister’s dowry. When the boy doesn’t return, his parents have to search for him with scant information of his whereabouts, extremely limited funds, and no picture of their son to show to the authorities.
For parents facing a similar crisis to the family in Siddharth, Delhi’s Bachpan Bachao Andolan (“BBA”) is there to help. The documentary The Price of Free gives a look at the organization and its devoted leader, Kailash Satyarthi, who won a Nobel Peace Prize for his part in freeing more than 87,000 Indian children from slavery. (The film debuted at the Sundance film festival under the title Kailash and was renamed before its streaming video release on YouTube.)
The keys to Satyarthi’s success are his complete commitment to the principle that every child should have a childhood and his optimism that this is an achievable goal — albeit an incredibly difficult one. The Price of Free explains just how complex the problem really is, with Satyarthi himself admitting to underestimating the scope the first time he tried to free a man’s daughter from sex slavery and failed.
Actually rescuing a child from forced labor is somewhere in the middle of a process that begins with trying to stop trafficking from happening in the first place, through a combination of laws and corporate pressure to poverty eradication efforts. After a child is trafficked, the BBA team attempts to locate and release the child — and any other children present — hopefully arresting their captors in the process.
What to do with the children they rescue is a whole other problem, one that Satyarthi and his wife Sumedha discovered early in their activism as their apartment filled with traumatized children far from home. The solution was Mukti Ashram, a temporary boarding school run by Sumedha as a place where recently freed kids could live, play, and learn while BBA workers track down their parents.
The Price of Free opens with footage of a harrowing factory raid that liberates sixty-three boys, the most frightened of whom is little Karim. Given the presence of police alongside BBA activists, the boys assume they are in trouble, and Karim won’t stop crying. In a surprisingly intimate gesture, Satyarthi sits with Karim and has the boy touch his beard, joking with Karim that he’s missing a beard of his own. It pays off days later, when Satyarthi hears that Karim is still nervous at the ashram. He asks, “Is this the friend who touched my beard? Show me how you did it.” Little Karim beams as he reaches up to give Satyarthi’s cheek a familiar pet.
A heartbreaking problem BBA addresses is the reality that some of the children they reunite with their families will just wind up in forced labor again, such is the depth of their poverty. One father admits to accepting a bribe from a trafficker of as little as 2000 rupees — less than $30.
The challenges and rewards of BBA’s activism are presented fairly by filmmaker Derek Doneen, without being manipulative or melodramatic, as befitting Satyarthi’s own can-do attitude. BBA’s work requires a great deal of bravery — one never knows if the police assigned to accompany them on raids have been bribed by traffickers — and Doneen and crew deserve credit for following the activists into potentially dangerous situations for the sake of documenting their work.
If there’s one complaint about The Price of Free, it’s the inconsistency of the English subtitles. Most of the banter and other background chatter like police radios isn’t subtitled at all. If multiple people are speaking at once, only one person’s dialogued is subbed. I know documentaries don’t have lavish budgets, but the film feels incomplete without full subs.
Even with over 150 million kids worldwide still engaged in child labor, The Price of Free and Kailash Satyarthi’s work with BBA give hope that this really is a problem we can tackle. If you’d like to get involved in the movement to end child labor, check out The Price of Free‘s website, Kailash Satyarthi Children’s Foundation, or 100Million.org.
You can watch The Price of Free in its entirety below: