World Council of Churches Office of Communication
Press Release
150, route de Ferney PO Box 2100 1211 Geneva 2 Switzerland E-mail: media

10 December 1998

WCC Eighth Assembly - Press Release No. 29

Craig Kielburger, 15, lives with his parents in a middle-class home in Ontario, Canada. In April 1995, he read a newspaper article that changed his life. It was about a Pakistani boy of his own age, Iqbal.

When Iqbal was four, his parents sold him into slavery. He was shackled to a carpet loom 12 hours a day, six days a week, and paid six cents a day. Eventually he escaped, helped to form a union and began to spread the word about the horrors of child labour. When he began to gain international attention, he was shot dead near his home outside Lahore.

Craig, then aged 12, founded an international organisation called Free the Children, which fights for children's rights. He told a meeting at the World Council of Churches Assembly Wednesday (9 December): "There's no shortage of plans for overcoming the problems of the world's children - but there's a shortage of action.

"There are lots of meetings. They produce statements about children's rights. There are other meetings to ratify them. Now it's time for action. The WCC is one of the most proactive international organisations when it comes to involving youth. But it still has a long way to go."

He was speaking at a meeting during the Assembly's Padare, a three-day programme of 400 events outside the official agenda. Craig told the meeting in Harare, Zimbabwe, that the Church is not always good at listening to the voice of children.

"Here at the WCC Assembly, we have meetings discussing the abuse of children. And here in this Assembly there are children who have lived through that abuse and risen above it. How many people are hearing their voice?"

Craig said that the churches were one of the most powerful groups in the world. "Governments are losing their power more and more as corporations become more and more powerful," he said. "There's consumerism. The media glamorise sex. Many people equate material goods with success."

"Young people are looking for moral leadership. Where are we going to find it? Certainly not in our politicians and sports stars. Today, more than ever, the churches have a crucial role to play."

In some ways, Craig said, the churches had failed children. "The churches should be challenging children to do more than just go to church and Sunday school. That's important. But unfortunately the Church hasn't been too successful at taking Jesus's message and putting it into action."

"Jesus didn't just preach. He also went out to the poor, the sick and the destitute. He lived with them. He helped in the healing. That's what we've forgotten."

Craig, an Anglican, said that he had sometimes questioned his faith as he visited children around the world. "I see magnificent churches. They're locked at night .Why? Because they don't want undesirable types, like street children, to sleep in them. Some churches go to great lengths to keep street children out.

"If Jesus were on earth today, he would throw open the doors of those churches, would welcome the children in and embrace them. He would be finding them places to sleep and opening food kitchens and health centres. Jesus's message isn't just to pass on the Scriptures to people. It's to pass on his love."

Children at the Assembly issued a formal series of challenges to the WCC and its member churches. They ranged from making a commitment to work against the sexual exploitation of children to setting up children's networks in parishes.

They challenged the WCC and churches to give moral, financial and spiritual support to the Global Ecumenical Children's Network. The Network, which is still in its formation stage, will promote child rights and advocacy for children and will work on "meeting the short-term needs of children and changing the factors contributing to the destruction of child dignity".

The children also asked the WCC and churches to:

  • Make a commitment to fight against the exploitation of children, especially those involved in the sex trade, and the sexual exploitation of domestic servants.

  • Foster the opening of chapters of the Children's Network in local parishes.

  • Promote the participation of children in parishes.

  • Recognise the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in all churches.

  • Adopt a resolution saying that the WCC agrees with all the points in the convention, especially the clause that allows youth participation.

  • Help to build a positive image of children, particularly of delinquent children, and to stop stigmatisation.

  • Collect money on International Children's Day for the Network to help exploited and abused children.

  • Organise an Internet website dedicated to the Network and the positive role that youth play in society.

Contact: John Newbury, WCC Press & Information Officer
Press and Information Office, Harare
Tel: +
E-Mail: WCC media

The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches, now 339, in more than 100 countries in all continents from virtually all Christian traditions. The Roman Catholic Church is not a member church but works cooperatively with the WCC. The highest governing body is the Assembly, which meets approximately every seven years. The WCC was formally inaugurated in 1948 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Its staff is headed by general secretary Konrad Raiser from the Evangelical Church in Germany.