Free the Children: A Young Man’s Personal Crusade Against Child Labor
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In April 1995, 12-year-old Craig Keilburger read an article about a Pakistani child who, at the age of four, was sold into slavery by his parents. For the next six years, he was shackled to a carpet loom, tying thousands upon thousands of tiny knots, twelve hours a day, six days a week. For this he was paid three cents a day. Amazingly, his will was never broken; he escaped and began efforts to reveal the horrors of child labour. But when he began to gain international attention, and Pakistani carpet manufacturers began to lose orders, he was shot and killed. Craig Keilburger contacted human rights organizations around the world, and with a small band of his friends from school he formed Free the Children. To see firsthand the working conditions of South Asian children Craig journeyed through the world of slums, sweatshops, and back alleys where so many of the children of South Asia live in servitude, often performing the most menial and dangerous of jobs. This is the chronicle of the continuing work of one young activist and the human rights organization he founded at the age of 12, to bring attention to the worldwide abuse of children’s rights.Twelve-year-old Craig Kielburger, upset by a newspaper article about the forced slavery and subsequent murder of a child in Pakistan, began in 1995 to research worldwide injustice against children. Armed with the disturbing facts, he convinced friends at his Canadian grade school to form a group to advocate for children’s rights. With world-changing zeal, Free the Children gathered information, wrote world leaders, and led conferences on the issue with other youth. Kielburger himself was given the opportunity to accompany a human rights worker through cities in South Asia.
The young man witnessed shocking abuse from which most middle-class Western children have been carefully shielded: he met an 8-year-old girl whose job was to recycle bloody syringes without gloves or other protection, children in a factory working with extremely hazardous materials to provide fireworks for a Hindu religious celebration, and children sold for sex on urban streets. On returning to his home in Canada, Kielburger bore witness to what he had seen and asked a simple, devastating question: “If child labour is not acceptable for white, middle-class North American kids, then why is it acceptable for a girl in Thailand or a boy in Brazil?”
Free the Children is now a powerful organization in support of the world’s youth, and this book is sure to be a call to further action–certainly for all young people, and perhaps for many adults who have previously felt hopeless about the possibility of ending abusive child labor and poverty. “We simply do not believe that world leaders can create a nuclear bomb and send a man to the moon but cannot feed and protect the world’s children,” says the author. “We simply do not believe it.” –Maria Dolan