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May 22, 1999
A Small Step To The Library Started A Worldwide Crusade
A P Kamath
Before April 17, 1995, Craig Kielburger was a typical North American kid who enjoyed rollerblading, video games, and basketball.
But after a newspaper article about the forced slavery and subsequent murder of a child in Pakistan, Kielburger,12, began in 1995 to research worldwide injustice against children.
"Ever since I can remember," Kielburger says, "I have had a poster in my room that says 'The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.' The day I read about the murder of Iqbal Masih (the Pakistani boy who rebelled against domestic slavery)... I never imagined that my first steps to the library, to find out more about the issue of child labor would lead me to the many thousand steps... both in miles and in knowledge."
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 labor 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."
Free the Children: A Young Man's Personal Crusade Against Child Labor, recently published by Harper Collins, has been likened by Kirkus Review to the autobiography of Anne Frank, the brave young woman who endured with her family for many months the terror of Nazism.
'Not since Anne Frank has a child so effectively borne witness to the madness of adult reality. This volume retains the language and voice of 15-year-old Kielburger, its young co-author, while its subject matter achieves the status of an important work on grassroots political organization and international human rights,' Kirkus Review said.
The book will 'make a great reading for both parents and their children, who, on the cusp of adulthood will see Kielburger proof that they can make a difference,' wrote a reviewer in Publishers Weekly.
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