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Why Children Are The Greatest Child Rights Advocates

Why Children Are The Greatest Child Rights Advocates

Humanitarian Cites Slain Young Laborer Who Continues To Inspire Kids Today

One of the poorest, most troubled countries in the world, Pakistan, has also produced some of our bravest, most inspiring young leaders, says Zulfiqar Rashid, (www.zulfiqarrashid.com), a Pakistan native and U.S. artist and businessman.

“Malala Yousafzai is only the most recent example,” says Rashid, referring to the 16-year-old advocate for girls’ education who was shot by the Taliban a year ago.

Rashid, who frequently travels to Pakistan and around the world, says he continues to see appalling treatment of children in his journeys. His new book focuses on a particularly cruel practice in Indo Asian countries.

In The Rat-boys of Karalabad, he writes about young beggars whose heads and limbs are tightly bound when they’re very young to stunt their growth. The practice makes the disfigured children more effective beggars at religious shrines, helping enrich those who control the shrines.

“The ‘rat-boys’ are, sadly, very real. In my book, the person who stands up to this evil is a boy who would ultimately have benefited from it,” Rashid says. “While he is fictional, he symbolizes the many young people in the world whose passion for doing good holds an extraordinary power that often goes unrecognized.”

Today’s story is Malala, but Rashid says the tale of another young Pakistani children’s rights advocate illustrates just how far-reaching children’s influence can be.

At 10 years old, Iqbal Masih crusaded against bonded servitude. When he was 4 years old, Iqbal’s impoverished Pakistani family sold him into bonded servitude for a $12 loan. For six years, he sat chained to a loom weaving carpets for 14 hours a day six days a week. He and the other children were forbidden from talking and were beaten if they were slow, fell asleep, or made a mistake. They were fed little so that their fingers would stay small enough to work the tiny knots in the carpets.

Iqbal escaped the factory in 1992 with help from the Bonded Labor Liberation Front of Pakistan, and began speaking out on behalf of child laborers and their right to an education. His revelations about the carpet industry gained worldwide attention, and he’s credited with freeing 3,000 children from factories.

7th-graders build a school for Iqbal. In December 1994, Iqbal visited Broad Meadows Middle School in Quincy, Mass., at the invitation of teacher Ron Adams, who wanted to give his seventh-graders a deeper understanding of international economics and human rights. Iqbal, the same age as the American students, was half their size – his growth stunted by malnutrition and confinement – but tremendously courageous. He knew his actions were angering the carpet barons, who might retaliate.

Four months after that visit, Iqbal was shot and killed while riding his bicycle in his village.

The outraged Beacons Meadows students insisted on doing something to remember Iqbal and decided to raise $5,000 to build a school in his village. “I thought, ‘Impossible!’ but the kids never doubted they could do it,” Adams said recently.

They faxed and emailed (with a borrowed computer from Amnesty International) requests to schools around the country seeking $12 donations for A School for Iqbal. By 1997, when they stopped fundraising, they’d raised $147,000, which built and helped fund the school for three years. Today Chanaan No. 3 is a self-sufficient campus for working children.

Operation: Day’s Work – kids helping kids around the world. A School for Iqbal grew into a student-led charitable organization that has spread to six other nations. Co-founded in the United States by eight schools with the help of the U.S. Agency for International Development, ODW turns 15 years old this year.

Each year ODW students research charitable groups and projects benefiting kids in developing countries. They invite their favorites to apply for grant money, then debate the merits of the applicants and projects. Finally, they vote to decide their beneficiary for the year. Then students raise money to fund their grant. Last year, they paid tuition, room and board for 38 rescued child laborers through the Kenyan Schoolhouse Project.

Joining Operation: Days Work is free and open to schools with students in fifth- through 12th grades. Visit www.odwusa.org for information.

Photo courtesy of volunteercambodia.org.uk.

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