Inspiring Purpose

Craig Kielburger

At the age of 12, Craig Kielburger organized his friends and classmates in Thornhills, Ontario, Canada, a suburb of Toronto, in 1996, to form a organization called Free The Children, an international network of children aimed at eradicating child slave labour around the world. Most people do not know that there are child slaves in the world today.

He was inspired by a newspaper article about the murder of Iqbal Masik, a 12-year old Pakistani boy who had been a slave in a carpet factory since the age of 4. Iqbal had never been to school, never had the freedom of a normal child. Instead, he had worked 12 and 14 hour days in a factory since he was 4 years old. When at last he was freed from enslavement by the Pakistani police, Iqbal tried to bring child slavery to public attention. He demonstrated and spoke with journalists. When Iqbal was 12 years old, he was murdered, a crime that remains unsolved.

Craig and his schoolmates signed petitions and faxed world leaders, including their own prime minister in Canada. Free The Children was funded - and still is --- by garage sales, pop sales, car washes, and bake sales run by children. No one on the Board of Directors of the organization was older than 18.

At the age of 14, Craig went to the slums, sweatshops, and back alleys of South Asia to find those enslaved children. He accompanied police on a raid to free children in a factory, and he went with the police when those children were returned to their parents. He talked with the families about their joys and hardships.

Craig and Free The Children began to focus on a pair of goals, to ensure that Canada would investigate the process of labelling imported rugs to identify those not made by children, and to change the law so police can criminally charge Canadians who use child prostitutes in foreign countries.

He suffered public attacks for what he was bringing to light. Not everyone agreed with him. Some couldn't cope with his age, inferring that he was too young to be telling adults and politicians, much less entire countries, what they should and shouldn't do. When he brought up the topic of children enslaved as prostitutes, older adults felt he had overstepped an unspoken boundary -- that children should not speak of these topics.

Furthermore, a Brazilian social worker argued in a popular magazine that solutions to the problem of child exploitation are very complex and raised this question, "Why is it that North Americans always think that they can save the world?"

Craig is now a dedicated activist for children's rights. Free the Children has initiated projects all over the world, opening more than 100 schools and rehabilitation centres for enslaved and exploited children. These children often suffer from years of physical and psychological abuse.

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