Children’s Rights in the next century

essay by Chris and LeAnne Struble
May 2000

What would you do if you read something in the paper that made you angry? What if you were 12 years old and read something in the paper that made you angry?

At 12, Craig Kielburger read an article about Iqbal Masih, a freed child laborer from Pakistan who had been murdered because he spoke out against child labor and brought international attention to the problem. Craig wanted to know more about the issue but found very little information at the library on the subject. He talked to several agencies dedicated to helping children but he wasn’t satisfied with what he found.

He then went to his seventh grade class with the story of Iqbal Masih. He and his classmates decided to take the issue to a youth fair in Toronto. They made homemade signs and did research on children being used as “slave” labor in developing countries.

When they arrived they found themselves up against organizations with slick brochures and presentations. But they had something none of the others had – children fighting to help children.

While many adults thought of them as cute kids in a club, Craig and his friends persevered. Now their “club” is an international human rights organization called Free the Children. It is the only organization of its kind run by children. Members must be under 18 to vote on issues. Adult advisors help with legal issues and accounting, but most of the real work is done by children.

Free the Children is working to bring to light what is happening to children in developing countries. They are working with the United Nations and other human rights organizations to get every nation to ratify and enforce the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child. Only two countries, Somalia and the United States, have not ratified this document.

At the age of 13, Craig Kielburger traveled to India and Thailand to meet children working as laborers in appalling conditions, and others that had escaped bondage. Now he travels around the world telling what he has learned and urging adults to follow the example of these children and help free those children still trapped in oppressive conditions.

Craig Kielburger has written a book on his experiences, also called Free the Children. He tells the stories of the children that he met and the horror he felt when he realized the kind of life they led. This remarkable young man is working to change the world and make sure that all children have a chance to be just that. If you would like to learn more you can visit their website at

Adults seem to be condemning this generation of children, especially the media who sensationalize those few children who commit serious crimes. We need to see more stories on children like Craig Keilburger. Instead of showing pictures of those that are hurting others we need to show pictures of those that are healing others, and there are many. For every Columbine shooter there is a Craig Kielburger, so why then aren’t they turned into household names?

Just as we now judge societies by how they treated women and minorities, the future will judge us by how we treat children. We will not be truly civilized until every nation recognizes that children are not mere property to be indoctrinated, enslaved, or used by adults for their own purposes. Children are developing human beings, with many of the same rights that adults have. But if their rights are to be fully recognized, children themselves may have to demand them. Free the Children may be the vanguard of the next evolution in human rights.

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