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Craig Kielburger



What You Can Do

What Craig is doing now


The power of one --- yes, one person can make a difference in the world. Small differences can mark the beginning of substantial change.

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 labor around the world. Most people in his country did not know that there were child slaves in the world today.

What prompted him to inform his classmates and initiate action? One morning Craig read a small 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. When he was freed, Iqbal tried to free other child slaves.

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.

 Would no one else tell the world that there were child slaves?

Craig was the same age as Iqbal. Their worlds were very different and this shocked Craig. He began to look further into a terrible secret, that there were thousands of children like Iqbal who had been kidnapped and enslaved to work in carpet factories and with hazardous materials. Craig discovered, that, in fact, many of those carpets from factories where children were imprisoned as workers were imported into Canada and other countries. 

What Craig and his schoolmates did ...

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. Craig Keilburger believes in the power of one person to make a difference

They brought a secret horror to the attention of the world --- children enslaved from an early age to work in factories and sweatshops, working 14 hour days, without a chance to go to school, beaten, mistreated, living behind barbed wire fences and cement block walls, with no future, no education, and little chance for happiness. Children enslaved as prostitutes was another secret horror that the organization addressed.

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 labeling 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.
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People didn't agree with Craig Kielburger, and what he did about it

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?"

Free the Children persevered. Within two years, the organization had raised enough money --- from coin donations coming from classrooms --- to help fund a rehabilitation center that takes in Pakistani youngsters who have escaped slavery. The rehabilitation center provides shelter and an informal school for the young children, keeping them out of the child labor system. Germany adopted a tag called "Rugmark," for carpets that were not made through the exploitation of children. A coalition of major US sporting goods manufacturers pledged not to buy soccer balls stitched by Pakistani children.

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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 centers for enslaved and exploited children. These children often suffer from years of physical and psychological abuse.

Free The Children organizes leadership programs for youth that teaches activism and public speaking skills, and links children on an international level so they can stop child slavery and make sure that all children around the world have basic human rights and freedoms.

In 1999 Craig and his brother Marc founded Leaders Today, an organization to teach leadership skills and empower children around the world to fight for their rights. There are Leaders Today centers in Kenya and Ecuador.

Read more about Craig and Marc at the My Hero website.


Nov. 20, 1959. Principle #9 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of the Child states:

"The child shall be protected against all forms of neglect, cruelty and exploitation. He shall not be the subject of traffic, in any form. The child shall not be admitted to employment before an appropriate minimum age; he shall in no case be caused or permitted to engage in any occupation or employment which would prejudice his health or education, or interfere with his physical, mental or moral development."

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Craig Kielburger has written a book called
Free The Children, A Young Man Fights Against Child Labor and Proves that Children Can Change the World.

Free The Children by Craig Kielburger is a good book to read.

Addressing Difficult Realities

Another project of Free The Children --- supported by donations from school children around the world --- gives farm animals to desperately poor families so that the families do not have to consider selling their children as slaves.

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