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How Can Children Make A Difference In Their World As Human Rights Activists?
Nancy Wallace
Freehold Township High School, Freehold, NJ

TIME REQUIRED: One class period.


6.3 Analyze and formulate policy statements demonstrating an understanding of issues, standards, and conflicts related to universal human suffering.
6.4 Evaluate how individuals, groups, and institutions influence solutions to society's problems.


  1. Define the term: Activist.
  2. Identify activists of the past.
  3. Analyze the contributions of those activists.
  4. Understand that children can make a difference in their world.
  5. Identify personal characteristics of children activists.
  6. Recognize the impact on a region / world made by children activists.
  7. Apply the knowledge of activism to school, town, and community.


  1. Pre-lesson on activism
    1. General class discussion will center on the following topics:
      • Define Activism
      • List activists of the past and present - might include: Martin Luther King Jr., Ghandi, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Nelson Mandela, and Sojourner Truth
      • Compare and contrast the goals and methods of the activists listed by class
      • Engage in class discussion on the level of each person's success

  2. Lesson plan part 1
    1. Divide students into small groups
    2. Each group will discuss:
      • What kind of people become activists
      • List the qualities and characteristics of activists
      • Explain how those qualities help people become advocates for human rights
    3. Groups share their ideas with the rest of the class
    4. Class engages in general discussion about qualities shared by human rights activists

  3. Lesson plan part 2
    1. Distribute biographies of children human rights activists - see addendum for copies
    2. Read the biographies
    3. Class breifly discusses those children activists' lives
    4. Compare and contrast the lives of the children
    5. List the qualities and characteristics of the children as childrens' rights advocates
    6. Discuss what motivated each child to become an activist
    7. Why did each child become internationally known?

Biographies of Children Human Rights Activists

  1. Annie Brisibe: She lives in the Niger Delta (the oil producing region of Nigeria) and is working to stop environmental destruction and exploitation of the land of her people. Because of the availability of natural resources, primarily oil, and the power of the multi-national corporations, the people of the Delta suffer tremendously from poverty and repression of their basic rights. Furthermore, Annie works vigilantly to make sure that the concerns of the women are heard and that their rights are promoted and respected. Annie's story demonstrates the impact of globalization on our world, our lives, the interconnectedness of human rights issues, and the power of young women to make a difference.

  2. Margaret Gibney: She lives in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The Mount Gilbert Community College (Belfast) Wall of Peace began when children wrote to leading figures around the world asking them to send messages of peace. Margaret Gibney, then 14 years old, wrote to British Prime Minister Tony Blair and in her letter told him that she had known only one year of peace in her whole life. The Prime Minister was so inspired by her plea and the Wall of Peace that he mentioned her letter on American television, and, as a result, Hillary Clinton asked to visit Margaret where she was in Belfast in 1997.

    Margaret has since won a number of awards for her inspirational peace work, including a Champion Children award, and she has traveled internationally as a UNICEF Young Ambassador. In July, 1998 Margaret went to New York to take part in the Youth Leadership Forum and Goodwill Games founded by Ted Turner. She was one of 36 youngsters from all over the world who were brought together to celebrate the start of the Goodwill Games. Margaret was also one of the three young ambassadors taking part in live TV coverage of the Games and was interviewed about her part in the Northern Ireland peace process and the Wall of Peace.

  3. Amanda Loos: In the United States to receive a human rights award in 1994, a 12 year old boy named Iqbal Masih visited Amanda Loos' junior high school, Broadmeadows Middle School. He told the story of how his parents had sold him into slavery when they could not repay a loan. A few months after his return to Pakistan, Amanda and her classmates learned that upon his return to Pakistan, the boy had been murdered for speaking out. "Suddenly it hit me that not every country is like the U.S., that there are kids around the world going through harder times than we ever will," says Amanda.

    Amanda and her classmates had a meeting and decided to e-mail all the junior highs they knew, telling them what had happened and asking for a $12 donation per classroom. They explained they planned to fund the building of a schoolhouse in Pakistan: Iqbal had told Amanda's class that one of his biggest dreams was ensuring that children all over the world would get an education, since that's something he and other poor children in Pakistan are constantly deprived of. "If we'd only read about him, we might not have done anything to help," says Amanda. "But he'd stood right in front of us, with this inch-long scar above his right eye from where he'd been beaten for working too slowly."

    Their goal was to raise $10,000 - but word spread around the country, and eventually the class raised $150,000. In 1996, a five room schoolhouse, which doubles as a community health center, was built in Kasur, Pakistan, near Iqbal's hometown. The kids' organization also launched a program that provides loans to Pakistani women to buy back their children from slavery.

    A few months before the schoolhouse was completed, Amanda testified before Congress about her knowledge of child laborers. She also took two months off during her sophomore year in high school so she could join the Global March Against Child Labour, an international crusade, and she was flown to Geneva, Switzerland, by UNITE, the garment-workers union, where she spoke out against child labor. "Once you meet kids who've been through this, you can't just talk about it," says Amanda. "You have to go out and do something."

  4. Craig Kielburger: Craig Kielburger is 18 years of age. He has one older brother, Marc, and lives with his parents in Toronto, Canada. Craig first became a spokesperson for children's rights when he was 12 years old and read about the murder of a young boy from Pakistan who was sold into bondage as a carpet weaver and murdered for speaking against child labor. Craig gathered a group of friends and founded the organization Kids Can Free the Children which is now the world's largest network of children helping children with over 100,000 active youth in 35 countries around the world.

    Over the past six years, Craig has traveled to more than 30 countries visiting street and working children and speaking out in defense of children's rights. He is a much in demand speaker who has addressed government officials and business leaders, educators and students around the world. Two years ago, Craig was named by the Jerusalem Post as one of the ten most interesting people to visit Israel.

    Free the Children has initiated many projects all over the world, including the construction of more than 300 schools, and two live in rehabilitation centers for children, the creation of alternative sources of revenue for poor families to free children from hazardous work, leadership programs for youth and projects linking children on an international level. Young people have built 2 health centers in Nicaragua, and distributed over $2,000,000 of medical supplies and 50,000 school kits to help children go to school. In addition, Free the Children has helped to convince members of the international business community to adopt codes of conduct in regards to child labor and governments to change laws to better protect children from sexual exploitation.

  5. Iqbal Masih: When Iqbal was for years old, he was sold into bonded labor by his father for a small amount of money. Chained for six years to a carpet loom, Iqbal tied knots for fourteen hours daily. Because he was abused physically and given barely enough to eat, he was short in height and was malnourished. Iqbal escaped from the carpet factory with the help of the Bonded Labor Liberation Front (BLLF). He began to travel to other countries telling his story as a bonded child laborer. In his speeches, Iqbal called for an end to the bonded labor of children in all nations and for, especially, an international boycott of carpets made in Pakistan. Iqbal became known throughout the international community. In 1995 on Easter Sunday, Iqbal was killed in his hometown in Pakistan. He was probably murdered for his international campaign for childrens' rights.


On December 7, 2001 students gathered at the United Nations, New York to participate in a student conference on human rights. The theme was "Acknowledging Diversity and Promoting Respect: Fostering a Dialogue Among Civilizations." Your students can register their thoughts and ideas related to the theme:


  1. Essay - three paragraphs
    1. First paragraph: Explain and describe two specific characteristics a human rights activist should possess.
    2. Second paragraph: Explain why those are necessary characteristics for an activist.
    3. Third paragraph: Select one person, child or adult, discussed during class. Explain how that person exemplfies the characteristics you listed in the first paragraph.

  2. Research the lives of other children who have become children's rights advocates. Share information with class.

  3. Write a "how to become a human rights activist" handbook.

  4. Continue sharing stories throughout the year with the class.

To learn more about the influence of Children's Rights on our global society, click on the links below:
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