Comment from Thomas Pogge, Yale University and Member of the UNICEF Social and Economic Policy Advisory Board
*An Idea for Advancing Strategic Advocacy and Partnerships*
My comment focuses on the last question suggested for the road to Pratolino: How to engage in strategic advocacy and partnerships that can promote sustainable, equitable and inclusive child and human development?
Thinking of children’s rights over the last 20 years one story stands out: that of Iqbal Masih, who escaped brutal slavery at the age of 10, joined the Bonded Labor Liberation Front of Pakistan, helped free 3000 children from bonded labor, became a spokesperson against child labor around the world and was murdered in 1995 at the age of 13.
That Iqbal’s brief life has not been forgotten is largely due to the work of other children. When the 7th graders of Broad Meadows Middle School (in Quincy, MA), to whom he had spoken about his life, learned about his death, they launched a fund raising campaign and built a school in Pakistan in his honor. And another boy, Craig Kielburger, then 12 and living in Canada, was so moved by Iqbal’s life that he founded the NGO Free the Children which has to-date built over 650 schools and school rooms and implemented projects in 45 developing countries. Some 14 years after Iqbal’s death, the US Congress established the annual Iqbal Masih Award for the Elimination of Child Labor. It is not unreasonable to believe that Iqbal and Craig have done more for the world’s children over the last 20 years than any other human being.
If UNICEF can succeed better at bringing children into the struggle for children’s rights, it might become much more effective in the pursuit of its goals. Politicians, corporations, media, banks and armies will all find it very hard to persist in injustice against which children are determined to raise their voices. Not qualified to vote, children still have a — largely untapped — potential to play a powerful role in politics, especially for the cause of children worldwide.
To make this happen, children must understand and act. Understanding can probably best be promoted through schools. UNICEF could design appropriate teaching materials and recruit suitable volunteers to take these materials into schools that do not yet have anyone willing and able to take this on. These materials should, of course, describe childhood hardships. But they should also explain why such deprivations persist, focusing especially on causal factors “close” to the learners being addressed. Children in developing countries might learn about child malnutrition and deficits in health care and sanitation in their country or about why many of their generation do not have a chance to go to school. Children in OECD countries might learn about the string of broken ODA promises, odious debts to (former) dictators, embezzlement facilitated by banks in affluent countries, local firms employing child labor in their supply chains, food imports from countries in which children are starving, the exclusion of poor children from advanced medicines through intellectual property rights or our role in magnifying the burdens of children in the developing world through pollution and global warming. Such materials should also prompt pupils to think about realistic possibilities of progress, esp. ones that they themselves might help promote. Efforts toward informed helping might often be the most appropriate, esp. in undemocratic societies where criticism is fraught with danger. In democratic countries, on the other hand, even a politically confrontational course (e.g., organizing opposition against the government or a domestic corporation to stop the import of goods made with child labor) might reasonably emerge.
After a few start-up years, the semi-autonomous UNICEF arm I envision (named perhaps Children for Children or CFC) would be largely self-sustaining as children and young adult CFC veterans would spread the message further, network across national borders, organize events etc. In terms of prestige and acceptance, CFC would greatly benefit from UNICEF sponsorship which would give CFC a substantial head-start over Kielburger’s Free the Children. UNICEF would maintain ties with the various CFC chapters to ensure basic coherence of message and goals. CFC could help raise funds for UNICEF, of course, but might also raise money for its own projects which might then benefit from UNICEF expert advice and connections.
This rough sketch evidently needs more input — plus, if it gets off the drawing board, a lot of learning by doing.