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January 24, 2000
Child crusader wins suit
A P Kamath
Craig Kielburger, a Canadian teenager who founded an organization to help bonded and exploited children when he was barely 12, was awarded (Canadian) $ 319,000 in damages last week over a Saturday Night magazine article that his lawyer said "demonized him.'' The article portrayed him as a "sinister and evil person,'' a Toronto court was told.
Kielburger estimates he will be left with about $ 120,000 after paying the lawyer's fees, and he would donate the money to his movement, Free the Children.
Kielburger, now 17, has focused on helping children across the world, including in India and other south Asian countries.
He was invited last year by a Sikh organization in Washington DC during its celebration of the 300th year of the Khalsa foundation to discuss human rights.
His autobiographical book, Free the Children, which was recently issued in paperback, has been compared by Kirkus Reviews to the powerful diary of Ann Frank during her family's experience of Nazi rule.
The article, published four years ago, was described in court documents as "snide and derogatory", its tone implying that Kielburger, 13 at the time, was "arrogant, manipulative", and using his crusade against child labour for his own benefit.
A Superior Court of Justice approved the settlement reached between Kielburger and the magazine while the teenager and his father, Fred, looked on, according to the Toronto Star.
Kielburger told reporters that the article "attacked the good intentions of myself and many other young people'' involved in what is now an international movement called Free the Children.
'"This judgment serves as vindication. I can now close a difficult chapter in my life," he said.
"Frankly, I want to move on with my life. I hold no grudges and I want to focus my energies into Free the Children, and the projects."
A court brief said that because of the article, "other children questioned him about what he was doing with the money they raised for Free the Children; they have accusingly asked Craig whether he is taking the money."
He suffered a "loss of confidence" because of the bad publicity, it said.
"He is religious and has been deeply disturbed by the comment, which has rendered him sleepless at night,'' the court document stated.
Kielburger began his career when he stumbled onto a headline about Ibql Masih a 12-year-old Pakistani child sold into slavery in a carpet factory who was murdered because he rebelled against the working conditions there. Kielburger was looking for the cartoons in the daily newspaper when the news item on Page 1 caught his attention.
He started the movement with a handful of friends and, when it began receiving media attention, traveled abroad, particularly in south Asia, to study child labor.
On returning home he began asking the 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?
"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," he said two years ago, when the hardcover version of the book was published.
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