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Kids helping kids: ... help Craig Kielburger make the world safer for children.

Craig Kielburger doesn't want to talk about himself. He doesn't want to talk about the time his dogs, Coco and Muffin, chewed up his video game. He also doesn't want to tell you about his love for hockey, Tae Kwon Do or about his Boy Scouts activities.

He'd rather talk about the horrors of child labour.

He's only 13 years old, but this kid from Thornhill, Ontario knows what he's talking about and will talk to anyone who will listen. And Craig knows how to get people to listen.

He recently followed Jean Chretien all the way to Asia and asked for the opportunity to meet the prime minister to talk about the problem of child labour in some Asian countries. The prime minister said he was too busy to meet with Craig, so Craig called a PRESS CONFERENCE. That means he invited reporters from newspapers, television networks, magazines and radio stations to hear what he had to say. The prime minister had no choice but to listen. And suddenly, millions of people around the world knew about Craig and his fight against child labour.

Craig can tell you the facts from off the top of his head - one million children working in the carpet industry; 50 million child workers throughout India, malnourished kids, sometimes kidnapped, sometimes sold by very poor parents to cruel employers. Their childhood is taken away and in some cases, like the story of young Iqbal Masih, some kids lose their lives.

Iqbal was just four years old when his parents sold him into slavery in Pakistan. For six years, he worked for many hours a day in a carpet factory. By the age of 12 he was free and telling people all over the world about the horrors of child labour. While riding his bike in his village one Sunday, Iqbal Masih was murdered. Craig Kielburger believes that youth around the world must continue the fight.

"When they listen to us, they know we know what we're talking about and we strongly believe in it," Craig told Kids World Magazine. "Youth is underestimated. Don't be shy and don't worry what other people think. As long as you truly believe in it, then it's right."

Craig started by selling lemonade, having garage sales, holding car washes, giving speeches, starting a letter-writing campaign and sending a PETITION to government officials. In a single meeting, he raised $150,000 toward ending child labour.

He believes that it only takes one person to make a difference; one person to get the ball rolling.

And that's what Craig did. Last year he started a group called Free the Children and encouraged other young people across Canada to do the same.

Thirteen-year-old Corey Martin from Winnipeg, Manitoba was convinced and started his own Free the Children group.

"I really thought as an individual I couldn't do much, but thought I should do what I can," says Corey, who was 12 when he started his group. "I thought someone my age wouldn't be taken seriously but Craig was only 12 and managed to get things started. He inspired me."

Soon after Corey wrote to Free the Children, a big box of information, video-tapes and "how-to" notes arrived at his home. He plans to talk to students in his city about child labour, telling them how kids can make a difference. Corey's group is still small, but he's sure others will join him.

Craig Kielburger's parents helped pay the bill for the trip to Asia where Craig met some of the people behind the frightening statistics. He met 12-year-old Nageshwer who told the story of two friends who were beaten to death. And the story of another young friend who still has a scar across his forehead from when an angry boss hit him for making a mistake on a carpet. And one more child who was burned with a hot iron for trying to escape from a factory.

"There's always a certain amount of sadness. You can dwell on that or use that energy - you have to look at doing what we can do right now," says Craig.

Now, he's busy trying to juggle friends, family and his Free the Children work.

What do Craig's parents think of his work?

His father, Fred, is very supportive, but wants to make sure that Craig leaves himself enough time and energy for school. But his dad is very proud, too.

"He has an innate sense of justice and compassion, great perseverance and lots of energy," says Dad. "He persuades people. We're talking about good news and a lot of optimism. But he's not unique. There are lots of Craigs out there."

WHAT CAN YOU DO ABOUT CHILD LABOUR?

It's not fair that millions of children on the planet are forced to work in unpleasant, unsafe conditions. Every kid deserves the right to be a kid. Even the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of the Child says that children deserve to get an education and be protected from harmful situations.

It's easy to feel helpless in a world that's so large. But you can make a difference.

* Read up on the issue of child labour. Know what you're talking about and then talk to anyone who will listen.

* Write to city, provincial and national government officials about your concerns. Encourage governments not to buy products made with child labour.

* Get a petition started and send it to governments.

* Speak or hold information programs at your school, local community club or at your family's place of worship.

* You can write to Craig Kielburger at

Free the Children 16 Thornbank Road Thornhill, Ontario L4J 2A2

Sixteen-year-old Nancy Ewald from Smithers, British Columbia is one of them.

When she heard that young women in El Salvador had to work under horrible conditions, she couldn't, and wouldn't, sit back.

"It's out there no matter what you do. You can't turn your back and think it's not there. You're always going to think about it so you might as well do something," she says. "If everybody thought it's too far away, then no one would do anything."

She encouraged her classmates to give up their "cool" designer clothes made by poorly-treated factory workers and write letters to the companies that hired them.

Her human rights activities didn't stop there. Nancy and a group of students wrote letters to prisoners around the world who aren't being treated fairly. They got a letter back, in Spanish, from a man in Argentina.

There are people more deserving of your concern, the man told them. "I'm old. . . don't worry about me."

But that's just the point young activists like Craig, Corey and Nancy want to make. Every individual counts.

"It's all about individuals. There's more power with more individuals, but you can't have power without them," says Nancy.
COPYRIGHT 1996 MIR Communications
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1996 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Nadia Moharib
Publication:Kidsworld Magazine
Date:Mar 22, 1996
Words:1135
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