Young Peace Heroes


Children, teens, and young adults who see a need and step up to fill it.

Craig Kielburger

"Craig Kielburger," with brother Marc, by Siavash Ghazvinian is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

"Craig Kielburger," with brother Marc, by Siavash Ghazvinian is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

At the age of 12, Canadian Craig Kielburger read a newspaper article that motivated him to take action. Iqbal Masih, a boy the same age in Pakistan, had lost his life defending other children.

Iqbal was kidnapped and sold into slavery at the age of four. He was chained to a carpet loom and forced to work up to 14 hours a day. Iqbal lived this way for six years. After being freed, Iqbal brought public attention to the plight of other enslaved children. His activism eventually led to his murder.

Craig felt compelled to take on the cause himself and went to work on a plan. He convinced 11 of his classmates to join him in fighting child labor. If Iqbal as one individual was able to bring the conditions of children to the media, what could they do as a team? The Free the Children movement took root.

Free the Children began as children wanting to help other children by fighting slavery, exploitation, prostitution, and poverty. To start, they petitioned world leaders to take action on the growing issue of child slavery. Little by little, their organization grew to an international network. To fund this, the children organized bake sales, garage sales, car washes, and collected donations from classmates.

Craig went to South Asia two years after starting Free the Children. He spent time in the slums and sweatshops on a search for enslaved children. He cooperated with local police to free children from one such factory. Craig accompanied the children as they reunited with their families. The families told him of the pain they felt on losing their children and the joy experienced on their return.

Craig and Free the Children helped create a process that certifies imported carpets made without child labor. Their actions also prompted many U.S. sporting goods companies to refuse to buy and sell soccer balls sewn by children in Pakistan. As someone in the public eye, however, Craig had his critics. Many believed he was too young to be interacting in such a way with adults and politicians. He brought up subjects considered taboo, such as enslaved children being used for prostitution. Many critics did not think this topic should be discussed with someone Craig’s age.

Despite the criticism, Free the Children did not lose sight of its goals. Free the Children now funds educational and rehabilitation centers for exploited children. It is active in almost 50 countries. Its funding still comes primarily through events organized by children.

Craig and his brother Marc have since created several spin off organizations. Leaders Today empowers children in Kenya and Ecuador by teaching them how to bring about change. Me to We encourages corporations to buy products made by artisans in underdeveloped countries.

Craig Kielburger continues to make a difference by motivating others to get involved and take action to improve conditions for people around the world. Less


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Malala Yousafzai

"Malala Yousafzai" by Simon Davis/DFID is licensed under CC BY 3.0.

"Malala Yousafzai" by Simon Davis/DFID is licensed under CC BY 3.0.

In 2014, at age 17, Malala Yousafzai (pronounced mah-LAH-lah yoo-sahf-ZIGH) became the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. The award recognized Malala’s work to assure an education for herself and other girls. Her efforts continue throughout the world today.

Malala was born July 12, 1997, in the Swat Valley of northwestern Pakistan during the Taliban’s rule of the area. Her father, Ziauddin, inspired Malala’s love of education. He founded a private school for boys and girls. The Taliban actively banned the education of girls. They destroyed many schools for educating girls. Malala continued to attend school despite the danger. She even began speaking out for the right of girls to be educated.

In September 2008, Malala gave a speech in Peshawar, Pakistan. The title was “How Dare the Taliban Take Away My Basic Right to an Education.” During 2009, at the age of 11, Malala published an anonymous diary on the BBC Urda. She wrote of life, particularly for girls, under Taliban rule. Her writings caught the interest of many in the media.

As her popularity grew, people learned her identity, and she became a target of the Taliban. On October 9, 2012, a gunman entered her school bus and asked for her by name. The gunman fired four shots into a group of girls. One of the bullets struck Malala in the head. She received medical treatment in Pakistan and later more surgeries and rehabilitation in the United Kingdom. She remained in England with her family for several years.

The shooting did not silence Malala as the Taliban had planned. She went on to speak about girls’ rights to be educated. In 2013, on her 16th birthday, she gave a speech at the United Nations. That same year she released her autobiography, I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban. Time Magazine named her one of the world’s most influential people.

Malala spent her 17th birthday in Nigeria. Three months earlier, Boko Haram Islamist militants had kidnapped more than 200 Nigerian schoolgirls. Malala urged Nigeria’s leader to do more to free the girls. Then, on the first anniversary of the kidnapping, Malala wrote the girls an open letter. She told the girls the world had not forgotten them. She asked them to stay strong and hopeful.

As Pope Francis addressed the United Nations on September 25, 2015, Malala watched from the balcony. She spoke afterwards, asking those present to promise an education for all children wherever they live.

The Malala Fund, established in 2013 by Malala and her father, continues to promote the education of girls throughout the world. Less


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Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera

"Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera." Credit: Martin Ennals Foundation.

"Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera." Credit: Martin Ennals Foundation.

Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera was born April 12, 1980, in Kampala, Uganda. Her father was a prince. He and Kasha’s mother both worked for the Bank of Uganda.

As a child, Kasha did not act like other girls. She wore pants to school instead of the expected skirt. Kasha’s mother allowed her to be herself. Being herself got Kasha in trouble, especially when she wrote love notes to other girls. When caught, she was expelled from school.

In Uganda, homosexuality is illegal.

Kasha lived her life openly. But she both observed and experienced discrimination, harassment, and physical abuse because of her sexual orientation. For example, an unidentified person attacked Kasha with a hard, sharp object after she exited a taxi because another person refused to share a ride with a lesbian. College provided no refuge. School officials made her sign a letter promising to stay far away from a girls’ hostel for no reason other than their own fear and hatred of homosexuality.

Despite challenges such as these, Kasha graduated from college with degrees in accounting and business administration. Then, in 2003, she and a group of friends founded Freedom and Roam Uganda (FARUG). The group planned to combat discrimination with education and change the homophobic policies and laws that had harmed members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender/transsexual (LGBT) community. Kasha served as FARUG’s executive director for 10 years.

One of Kasha’s toughest battles was against the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. Parliament passed the bill in December 2013. Under this bill, people convicted of homosexual acts could be sentenced to life imprisonment. Even people who support homosexuality could face punishment. The law basically permitted continued discrimination and persecution of homosexuals. Kasha and her associates challenged the law on legal technicalities. They succeeded in getting the law overturned by a constitutional court in August 2014. In an interview following the decision, Kasha said, “I am no longer criminal, today we have made history for generations to come.” Supporters of the bill, however, are still expected to appeal the court’s decision.

Kasha has gained international recognition for her human rights advocacy. Her honors include the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders (2011), the Nuremberg International Human Rights Award (2013), and The Right Livelihood Award (2015).

Although her life remains in constant danger, Kasha still lives in Uganda with her partner. She continues to fight homophobia in Africa and around the world. Less


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