How Craig Kielburger Started Free The Children to Help Change The World

A detailed look at how Craig Kielburger came up with the idea for Free The Children and helping those in need.

A child is the father of a man, so goes the famous age-old saying. Yet the people of the United States of America had no inkling that a pre-teen barely at the age of 12 could strive to free children from slavery and do much more. The truth is quite amazing! The 12-year-old Craig Kielburger began by addressing a gathering of interested delegates of the “International Labour Organization.” And the rest is history as they say. 

Craig Kielburger was as emphatic as he was earnest. With sparkling eyes and enthusiasm,  he made his point, having the entire audience hooked within minutes. His dream was big but his confidence had the hall filled with applause that never seemed to stop. Surprisingly, OFL announced a donation of $5,000 to Free the Children, an organization that began as a dream. 

The amount was meant for the specific purpose of constructing a rehabilitation center in India that would help to provide shelter to the child laborers across the country.  Other organizations followed suit with “Free The Children” accumulating more than on that fateful evening. Craig Kielburger’s initial intention had been to generate awareness among the people present and convince them that child labor was a dangerous reality in the developing world. 

Well, he had not only succeeded in making his point but collected funds to fulfill the core objective too. 

The Journey: Where it all Began!

Craig Kielburger came across a heart-wrenching story when he was only 12. It depicted the plight of Iqbal Masih, a Pakistani boy of the same age as Kielburger. He had been working as a bonded laborer in Pakistan’s carpet factory, creating knots by hand. The resulting rug was sold at a high price to tourists from foreign countries. He labored for 12 long hours working six days a week in exchange for a bowl of plain rice. He escaped the frequent beatings and hunger pangs by running away at the age of 10. Sadly, he was found murdered soon after. 

This human tragedy was circulated in many newspapers and Kielburger read it avidly thinking that the child could have been a playmate of his if he had been fortunate enough to be born in a developed country. The fate of Iqbal Masih made a great impact on the psyche of Kielburger who became determined to improve the lives of such hapless children around the world. 

He was in profound shock and the image of the helpless child remained etched in his mind. He made photocopies of the newspaper article and distributed them among his peers in school. He spoke at length to his peers after taking care to provide statistics about child labor to back up his claim. Thus began his long and relentless fight against child labor and people who thought nothing about dragging young children into it. 

This discussion led to the formation of a group that came to be known as Free The Children later on. It consisted of ten school children. There was nothing official about it though. A petition was drawn up outlining the cause and the problem that brought the children together. It was handed out to reputed people, namely corporate leaders and political party members. A few in this group tried to spread awareness by speaking at Church congregations and various schools. 

The members of Free The Children kept in touch with world events and collected more news about similar events taking place all across the globe. News of the imprisonment of Kailash Satyarthi, an Indian philanthropist who fought against child labor reached them, causing them to collect more than 3000 signatures of individuals who protested the action. A letter was written to the Indian Prime Minister demanding the release of Satyarthi. Kielburger recalls that it had been sent in a brown paper-wrapped shoebox. Kailash Satyarthi remembers the shoebox, describing it as one of the most memorable deeds done for him. 

Free The Children (FTC) was headquartered at the Kielburger home and soon became recognized as a Non-Profitt Organization that aimed to eliminate the menace of child labor all over the world. The organization has grown by leaps and bounds and encompasses 100,000 children living in various parts of the globe today. Unsurprisingly, FTC continues to receive requests from thousands of children who are eager to stand by and help the child laborers.

Free The Children is a team with a difference; it had the child-like enthusiasm and eagerness to get started. Sure, FTC makes do with the assistance of multiple adult volunteers but the majority of tasks are handled by the young brigade consisting of excited and enthusiastic youngsters well below the age of 18. 

Craig Kielburger firmly believes in the power of humans regardless of age, sex, or circumstances. He feels that every single individual has an idea that remains close to his / her heart and would do everything to turn it into reality. 

Discoveries Made In South East Asia

A trip to Southeast Asia was then planned by Craig Kielburger after being encouraged by the Ontario Federation of Labor. He wanted to meet with the child laborers and those living on the street with no food, clothes, or shelter. He scrimped and saved, finally being able to buy a flight ticket. He was accompanied by Alam Rahman, a 25-year-old Bangladeshi who arranged meetings with several human rights activists and organizations in the places they hoped to visit. 

He met numerous young children from the streets and back alleys who were forced to work under abysmal conditions who had become inured and accustomed to their conditions and fate. Most of the hapless children did not want money or asked for physical help. All they wanted was a listening ear and an individual who would carry their stories to the rest of the children residing in another part of the world that was quite alien to them. Amazingly their good nature and humanity peeked through their tough exterior making Kielburger even more determined to try and make a difference.

If you enjoyed this article, be sure to read more about Craig Kielburger on his main website and blog.


Written by Kristel Staci

Kristel Staci is an entrepreneur and freelance writer that focuses on everything related to social media, online marketing and finance. To see what Kristel is currently working on, you can visit her blog at


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