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By UNICEF Australia
26 July 2021

Across the world, children and young people have been protesting and speaking up about what matters to them. Why? Because they feel country leaders are not listening to concerns on issues which impact children now, and into the future. While a wave of protests by children has gained momentum over the past few years, child rights activism is nothing new. We take a look at five young activists using their voice to make change.

1. Malala Yousafzai

"I tell my story not because it is unique, but because it is the story of many girls."

At just 15-years-old, Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head on a school bus by the Taliban in Pakistan for daring to speak out against a ban on education for girls. It is a story that is known across the world. 

Malala survived and has gone on to become a role model for women globally. She has devoted her life to being a voice in the fight to ensure all girls receive 12 years of free, safe, quality education. 

In 2020, the Malala Fund teamed up with UNICEF and other partners to deliver the ‘Building back equal: girls back to school guide’, which gives policymakers and other decision-makers the tools to ensure girls’ education continues to be an important part of the COVID-19 response. Learn more about our work in education.

Follow Malala on Instagram.

Malala talks to a group of women© UNICEF/UN072059/Abubakar

2. Greta Thunberg

Swedish teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg started a school strike for the climate outside the Swedish Parliament. Since then, Greta has become a global phenomenon and has helped spread the movement, dubbed Fridays for Future, around the world. 

Greta has spoken at climate rallies in Stockholm, Helsinki, Brussels and London. In 2019, she gave a searing and emotional speech at the United Nations, calling on decision-makers around the world to commit to meaningful climate change action. 

Greta has inspired other young activists too. In Australia, 14-year-old activist, Izzy Raj-Seppings, led thousands of protestors in “School Strike 4 Climate” protests through Sydney, becoming a face of Australia’s youth climate movement when she stared down riot police outside of Kirribili House.  

In what Greta Thunberg called ‘a huge win for the whole climate movement’, Izzy and seven other teenagers, won a class action lawsuit against the Federal Government, which ruled that the Minister for the Environment has a duty of care not to act in a way that would put young people at risk of climate-related harm.

Greta and eight young activists reveal how the climate crisis is shaping their lives | UNICEF

Nine young activists explain how climate change is affecting their lives and who inspires their efforts to make our planet a better place.

Thunberg has also spoken about the need for an equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. She donated 100,000 euros (AUD $155,000) from her Foundation to the WHO Foundation in support of COVAX and UNICEF to help achieve this goal.  

COVAX is part of the global effort to ensure equitable access of vaccines to the most at-risk around the world, including health workers and older people. As part of COVAX, UNICEF aims to deliver more than 2 billion COVID-19 vaccines.  

Yet cases of deadly COVID-19 continue to devastate vulnerable communities across the globe. No one can do everything, but everyone can do something. Learn how you can play your part.

Follow Greta on Twitter.

3. Thandiwe Abdullah

Thandiwe Abdullah speaks into microphone
Thandi gives a speech.
© BCK Online

By her seventeenth birthday, Thandiwe Abdullah already had an impressive list of achievements. She co-founded the Black Lives Matter Youth Vanguard, helped create the Black Lives Matter in Schools program (subsequently adopted by the National Education Association), and successfully campaigned to end random police searches in the LA Unified School District.  

Thandiwe’s mother, Melina Abdullah – a prominent activist in her own right – began taking her daughter to political rallies from a young age. By the age of nine, Thandiwe was already involved in the growing BLM movement, giving an impromptu speech at a rally for Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old fatally shot by police in her hometown of South Los Angeles. 

In 2018, she spoke in front of a crowd of 500,000 people during the Women’s March in Los Angeles, and she was featured in TIME magazine as one of that year’s 25 Most Influential Teens.  

“For me, success and my work should always be connected to the community. Making sure that I'm continuing to support and uplift—even if it's not my own people—anyone who is oppressed, anyone who is in need or being subjugated. That's my job.” 

Follow Thandi on Instagram.

4. Bana Alabed

At just seven-years-old, Bana Alabed became well known for documenting her experience of the siege of Aleppo in Syria through Twitter.

With the help of her mother, Bana told of the suffering for people inside and outside of Syria and gave a face to the everyday reality of life in Aleppo. Her Twitter account urged leaders to do more for the millions of children stuck in the middle of conflict.

"I must say to the leaders of the world: They are not helping enough to stop the war in Syria and to help the children. Many children are dying."

Bana Alabed

Bana and her mother were evacuated from Syria in late 2016. In 2018, the child activist received the Atlantic Council Freedom Award. Learn more about the conflict in Syria and how you can help children.

Follow Bana on Twitter.

5. Children around the world

“I saw Greta Thunberg speak at COP24. Her example showed me what I had to do," says Alexandria Villasenor, then 13, to a group of young people protesting in favour of climate action outside the United Nations in March 2019. 

On Fridays, throughout the winter, Alexandria took a cue from Thunberg and sat on a bench in New York to protest the lack of action on the environment.

"I saw Greta Thunberg speak at COP24. Her example showed me what I had to do."

Alexandria Villasenor

The marchers also demanded that leaders take to heart the landmark October 2018 report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimating the planet was only 12 years away from catastrophe unless “far-reaching and unprecedented changes” are taken.

In the past year, thousands of young people across Australia and around the world have taken to the streets to protest about what is important to them and what they feel is being ignored by the world’s leaders.

Children have the right to have an opinion and expect to be heard.

Alexandria Villasenor protesting in favour of climate action outside the United Nations on 15 March 2019.
Alexandria Villasenor protesting in favour of climate action outside the United Nations on 15 March 2019.
© UNICEF/UN0302772/Unknown