The world knows Malala and Greta for their work, but it is not just them, there are thousands of children who have made a difference in the world. In every corner of the world, some brave children are working to make the world a better place. Let’s learn about ten power-children who have made us see injustices and differences that we often turn a blind eye to.
1. Malala Yousafzai
The Noble Peace Prize winner Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai was assassinated by the Taliban in 2012 in the Swat Valley in Pakistan. The reason behind the assassination attempt was due to her activism and struggle for girls’ right to education. In the area where Malala lived, the Taliban periodically banned girls from attending the school, which she refused to listen to. On October 9, 2012, the Taliban shot her in the head which became very critical in the immediate aftermath. But she survived and has since continued to work with girls’ right to education. Today she is a big name in the world continuing her work throughout the world.
Malala received the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 2013. And in 2014, she received the Nobel Peace Prize together with Kailash Satyarthi. They received the award in recognition of their work in stopping the oppression of children and young people and for their struggle for children’s right to education.
She was only 17 years old when received Noble Peace and became the youngest person to ever receive the Peace Prize. Her life has become a documentary, she has had an asteroid named after her and she has written three books, including “I am Malala” which had a great impact globally. Today, Malala is studying at Oxford University.
2. Iqbal Masih
Iqbal Masih is a symbol of the world representing children forced into slavery. He was born in 1982 in Pakistan’s city Muridke and grew up as a debt slave. His mother took on a debt after undergoing surgery – a debt that Iqbal then had to pay off. He was sold as a slave for the equivalent of $12 US and began working as a carpet weaver in a factory outside the city of Lahore. He was only four years old at that time. After six years of work, Iqbal Masih managed to escape and received help from the organisation Debt Slaves’ Liberation Front. He then became the organisation’s front figure and a well-known international activist against child labour and slavery.
His slogan “Children should have pencils in their hands, not tools” became one of the iconic ones in the world against child labour. During his activism, he visited Stockholm, among other places. During his visit to Stockholm, he pointed out in a carpet store that carpets were tied by children. At the age of 12, he was shot to death with a shotgun on his way to church while in Pakistan to celebrate Easter with his family. After his death, Masih became an international symbol for children forced into slavery. In 1994, he received a human rights award from Reebok. He also posthumously received the “The World’s Children’s Honorary Award” in 2000.
3. Nkosi Johnson
Nkosi Johnson is another name among the children who made a difference in the world with their work. He was born HIV-positive in 1989. A few years later, his mother died of AIDS. Gail Johnson a health care worker adopted Nkosi. Johnson worked at the health centre where Nkosi’s mother died. There were hundreds of thousands of children in South Africa became orphan due to AIDS. He was about to begin school in a suburb of Johannesburg when he was seven, but other parents started protesting and the school had to forbid him. It became a historic lawsuit, which Nkosi won. The lawsuit ordered schools not to discriminate against any student for any medical reasons.
The brave boy became internationally known for his bravery at the international AIDS conference in Durban in 2000. South African President Thabo Mbeki had insisted that it was not certain that there was a link between HIV and AIDS. During his speech, he mentioned the importance of HIV-positive women receiving antiretroviral drugs. The antiretroviral drug will prevent the virus from being transmitted to children. He also mentioned that we are all human – and should be treated equally. Later that year, he was invited to speak at a conference in the United States. Unfortunately, Nkosi died of AIDS in 2001. He has posthumously received the International Peace Prize for Children and the World Children’s Prize.
4. Bana-al Abed
Bana-al Abed, a seven years old girl from Aleppo, Syria, started tweeting with the help of her mother about the ongoing struggle of her family. The tweet was a way of describing what she and her family went through in the middle of war-torn Syria. On October 2, 2016, she writes “I am very scared that I will die tonight”. She documented everything from airstrikes, hunger, fear, and the longing for peace and tweeted directly to the presidents of Russia, the United States, and Syria. Unfortunately, the Syrian president then called the account propaganda, and others just ignored it as does all the time.
In December 2016, the Twitter account was temporarily shut down during a major attack that made the entire world hold its breath. At the end of the same month, Bana-Al Abed was evacuated with his family to Turkey. Currently, they have Turkish citizenship. In 2018, she published the book “Hello World!” together with his mother – a book that gives examples of how a child is affected by a humanitarian crisis. She continues to tweet and today has over 300,000 followers. On September 15, she wrote, “I’m sorry after 8 years of war. People have lost everything. Thousands of children have died and the world is just watching.”
5. Anoyara Khatun
Anoyara Khatun is an activist from India working for children’s rights. She grew up in the state of West Bengal in eastern India. Unfortunately, she was forced to start working as a maid in New Dehli when she was 12 years old. But somehow, after six months, she escaped back to her home village. Since then, she has been working for children’s rights. Now she runs a network through Save the Children with children in 80 villages. Her goal is to inform children and young people about their rights and stop more children from being exposed to trafficking, child marriage, or child labour.
India is one of the worst countries where child labour is a big issue. According to ILO, India has more than 10.1 million children forced into labour. Though activists like Anoyara Khatun believe that there are many more than that. Because the area where Anoyara Khatun grew up is poor, it is not always easy to convince parents that marriage and trafficking are not the way to go.
In 2017, she received the Nari Shakti Puraskhar, one of the Indian awards in recognition of her fight against child labour and child marriage. The UN invited her as a child representative to India to participate in UN forums on global goals and met Ban Ki-Moon, Nadia Murad, and Bill and Melinda Gates.
6. Xiuhtezcatl Martinez
Xiuhtezcatl Martinez is another child who has made a difference in the world. He is an environmental activist and hip-hop artist from the United States. Martinez is one of the founders of the environmental organisation Earth Guardians, which you will find all over the world. When he was six years old, spoke at a national event in the United States about the importance of protecting the earth. Now he has been involved in the climate change issue and making the world understand how it is affecting indigenous peoples.
The young activist has spoken at the UN Summit in Rio De Janeiro. He also had the privilege to speak at the UN General Assembly in New York. Together with 21 other young people, he sued the US government in 2015 for not doing enough against climate change. The case has reached the Supreme Court, which has not yet decided whether to take up the case or not. Xiuhtezcatl Martinez has received several awards, including the Children’s Climate Prize in Stockholm 2016. He also uses music as part of his activism and has written the book “We Rise”.
7. Melati and Isabel Wijsen
Two visionary sisters Melati and Isabel Wijsen from Bali, Indonesia founded the organisation “Bye Bye Plastic Bags” in 2013 at the age of 12 and 10. They established the organisation to overcome the problem they had seen throughout their upbringing. Through name collections, beach cleaning, and hunger strikes, the sisters finally managed to make Bali’s governor Mangku Pastika listen. He who had first called the junk season a “natural phenomenon”. Despite the governor’s promise to free Bali of plastic bags by 2018, the issue has not yet been fully realized. As of now Melati and Isabel Wijsen continue to lobby for their cause.
Bali has now banned disposable plastic. At the UN Maritime Conference 2017, Indonesia, as the second-largest emitter of plastic pollutants in the sea, promised to reduce the number of marine debris by 70 per cent by 2025.
Melati and Isabel Wijsen have spoken at several organisations including the UN General Assembly, and the IMF World Bank Forum. They have also recorded a TED talk. Forbes, Times Magazine, and CNN named them one of the world’s most influential teenagers. Today, their organisation is located in 28 places in the world, all led by young people.
8. Boyan Slat
Boyan Slat is a Dutch child who made a difference in the world with his project The Ocean Cleanup. As a 16-year-old, he went to Greece on a diving trip and saw the plastic rubbish which devastated him. He wanted to do something about the situation. Finally, he came up with an idea to clean the world’s sea of rubbish. At first, he had a hard time getting people interested, but after a TedX Talk, he slowly started getting sponsors.
A few years later, his project The Ocean Cleanup got recognition. The organisation build a 600-meter-long barrier in September 2018 out of San Francisco in California towards the large plastic collection in the Pacific Ocean. As their plan, they would collect the plastic rubbish with the help of currents, waves, and winds, and then transport it to land. The organisation has a goal to reduce plastic in the oceans by 90 per cent by 2040. Few attempts of the experiment with the cleaning system failed in 2018. But in a new experiment this autumn, it went all the better – and now there is also a system for cleaning the world’s rivers.
9. Erica Fernandez
Erica Fernandez an immigrant from Mexico to the United States is another story of children who made a difference. She was 10 years old when she came to America. When she was 12-years-old, she began to engage herself in beach cleaning days in California. Shortly after she joined a local group to stop BHP Billiton from pulling a natural gas pipeline through the low-income area, she lived in. Several families had had to relocate. As a child she involved herself in organizing protests outside the company’s offices once a week, contacting the media, knocking on doors, talking in schools, and testifying to the corresponding California County Administrative Board to convince them of the negative consequences the project would have for people and the environment. Finally, BHP Billiton suspended the project in 2007.
Since then, she has been working on environmental issues. She has received several awards, such as the Brower Youth Award and the Jane Goodall Award, as well as receiving scholarships from the Gates Foundation. Today, she has several projects underway and works, among other things, with water issues in California and reforestation in Mexico.
10. Greta Thunberg
Greta Thunberg is a name that needs no introduction and she is among the other children who made a difference and continues to make difference in the issues of climate change. From 2018, then 15 years old, she started to strike from a school outside Sweden’s parliament – for the sake of the climate.
A year later, I am Greta took the whole world. What she started with just a few schools has become millions through the global movement Fridays for Future. It is her goal to make the world listen and to follow the Paris Agreement. She has inspired many to get involved and there are now her supporters in all corners of the world.
She has given many, already classic, speeches in various global arenas, she has written books, stopped flying, and met those in power such as the Pope, the UN Secretary-General, Arnold Schwarzenegger, etc., and received letters from the Dalai Lama. For her commitment, she has already been awarded many prizes and awards.