When I started researching Children Who Changed the World, I did not realise what an inspiring and moving experience it would turn out to be. I first became interested in child rights when I read about Eglantyne Jebb, who founded the organisation ‘Save the Children’ and wrote the first five rights for children in 1923.These initial rights have grown into the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which has 54 articles and has been signed up to by 196 countries. Eglantyne Jebb left us this amazing and precious legacy, which gives every child the right to a safe and happy childhood. Sadly, in this turbulent world not every child receives this. Many children miss out on their most basic rights, such as a safe home and an education.
Of course there are many adults who campaign for children’s rights, but what I hadn’t realised before writing Children Who Changed the World, was just how many child activists there are. In fact the number of young activists making a real difference in the world is awe-inspiring! Many of the children in my book are winners of the International Children’s Peace Prize, which is awarded annually by the organisation Kids Rights. I wish I had had space for more of them – you only have to look on the Kids Rights website to see how many courageous and dedicated children I had to leave out.
Not all child activists have won prizes or have a high profile. Many just quietly campaign to change injustices in their local community: saving their lunch money to buy food for less fortunate children, standing up against bullying, or starting after-school clubs and sharing their education with street children. The youngest activist in the book started her campaign to send toys to disadvantaged children when she was just four years old! Every children’s right has an equal value, just as every one of these young campaigners has an equal value. Being limited by page numbers, I tried to choose the activists who represented as many different countries and rights as possible. The incredible thing about many of the child activists that I have included in the book is that they were denied their rights and often suffered terribly – but when their luck changed they didn’t turn their backs on other children, but stood up and fought for their rights too. Children like Malala Yousafzai, who continues to fight for every child’s right to an education after the shocking attack on her life. Or Kez Valdez from the Philippines, who from the age of seven campaigned for every child’s right to good care – even though he spent his own early years scavenging on a city dump. This I find one of the most moving qualities amongst these young people.
I believe that the best way to support these children is to spread their stories and let as many people as possible know about child rights. In many cases it was learning about these rights that inspired and empowered the children in Children Who Changed the World to fight for them. I hope that from these stories we learn that you don’t need to be rich, famous, or even an adult to make a difference – you just have to believe that every child has the right to a safe and happy childhood and think of one small thing you can do to promote this simple truth. In the words of Ryan Hreljac, a Canadian child activist: “You are never too young or too old to make a difference – just find your passion!”
Children Who Changed the World was published by Walker Books on 5th September 2019.
The views expressed do not necessarily represent those of the FCBG.