You must have heard the adage “It is never too late.” Well, these child changemakers and teen activists have turned the saying on its head and believe “It is never too early”.
Child and youth activism have inspired scores of youngsters across the world to not wait till they are older to pledge their support or register their protest for various social and environmental causes.
So while we toast brave teens like Greta Thunberg who have often taken on governments and established organisations, here is a closer look at some lesser known—but equally impactful ones—who have inspired us to go out there and usher in change.
Touted as the youngest climate activist in India, eight-year-old Licypriya Kangujam’s range of influence extends to not just kids in the country but to thousands around the globe. All of seven, the Manipur native attended the sixth session of the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction, 2019 at the UN headquarters in Geneva.
The Class 2 student was the youngest participant to be invited by the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) and the Government of Switzerland. She represented not just the children of India, but those from across APAC.
Licypriya has visited several countries to speak about the deadly consequences of climate change. Her activism has led her to even stand outside the Indian Parliament earlier this year, urging lawmakers and politicians to take immediate action to pass the climate change law, boldly addressing Prime Minister Narendra Modi and MPs in her placard. This comes at a time when India, just as the rest of the world, is reeling under a very immediate climate change crisis.
Licypriya is the recipient of numerous awards, including the World Children’s Peace Prize in 2019, the India Peace Prize, and the Dr APJ Abdul Kalam Children’s Award.
If Greta Thunberg has caught your attention in recent times, here is another climate crusader closer home. Eleven-year-old Ridhima Pandey was among the 16 children who filed a complaint at the UN Climate Action Summit recently to protest government inaction with regards to climate change.
Often referred to as ‘India’s Greta Thunberg’, the Haridwar native came into the spotlight in 2017, when she filed a petition in the National Green Tribunal against government inaction and alarming pollution and environmental degradation concerns spreading across the country.
A strong proponent of saving river Ganges, Ridhima has boldly spoken out against politicians who have not stepped up, and has urged for immediate, proactive measures. She has been vocal about a complete plastic ban in the country, and advocates an end to patronage of plastic products to push companies to stop their manufacture.
When she turned 15 earlier this year, Leah Namugerwa celebrated by planting 200 trees. Spearheading the climate change movement from Uganda, Leah has managed to form a band of young activists who hold protests against climate change. She has also taken to social media to foment action from government and citizens alike. She used the hashtag #BanPlasticUG and an online petition to draw attention to environmental issues caused by plastic use, etc.
An ambassador of Fridays for Future, led by Greta Thunberg, Leah also spoke at the UN Habitat Assembly in May, urging for more innovation to create change in the world. Her campaigns have thrown light on the rampant deforestation, droughts, and flooding caused by climate change.
Aleppo has been caught in the middle of the Syrian Civil War and the resulting refugee crisis in recent years. And little Bana rose to prominence with a tweet in 2016 that simply read, “I need peace”.
This was followed by a series of tweets from her account, moderated by her mother, spelling out the distressing tale of a child and her family trying to flee a war-torn Syria. A particularly heart-wrenching tweet by the now 10-year-old read, “I can’t go out because of the bombing please stop bombing us”.
Dropping truth bombs on the regular, Bana shook up Twitterverse with statements like “This is a world that allowed 30000 children to die in #Syria”. A peace activist in her own right, Bana was forced to grow up too quickly but took us along on the ride to see the extent of trauma the refugee crisis has on tiny humans and adults alike.
Her family escaped East Aleppo, being rescued by a Turkish NGO, and Bana has since appealed to world leaders—including an open letter to US President Donald Trump—to help Syria. Recently, Bana also penned her first book, Dear World: A Syrian Girl’s Story of War and Plea for Peace.
In late September, Payal Jangid became the first Indian to receive the Changemaker Award from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The Rajasthan native was conferred with the prestigious award for her efforts to abolish child marriage in her village, which is 100km from Jaipur, as well as in neighbouring villages.
The 17-year-old’s tryst with activism started when she was just 11 years old, and had to stave off child marriage herself. She successfully stood her ground with her parents, and went on to serve as the president of her village’s Children Parliament (bal panchayat), and has regularly rallied to empower women and children in the surrounding villages.
Seventeen-year-old Indian-origin Sameer Jha has achieved a lot in little time — setting up a non-profit for social and cultural change in the US as well as taking on the mantle as Youth Ambassador for Human Rights Campaign Foundation.
They had started The Empathy Alliance when they were just 14 years old. The organisation makes concerted efforts to ensure schools are safer for LGBTQ youth, also working to improve the quality of life of these students. The non-profit now hosts 500 volunteers who work not just in the Bay Area but also internationally to help address concerns of bullying faced by queer and trans school students.
A well-stocked LGBTQ-friendly library and gender-inclusive training are among the measures adopted by The Empathy Alliance to end bullying and targeted behaviour against LGBTQ youth in schools.