By Nita Bhalla
NEW DELHI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Thousands of children gathered at India's Presidential Palace on Sunday to launch a global campaign mobilizing better-off children to speak up for their disadvantaged counterparts.
The campaign aims to build awareness, primarily through social media, of children's causes and encourage youth to petition governments and the international community to improve the plight of children.
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Led by President Pranab Mukherjee and prominent leaders such as Holland's Princess Laurentien and Nobel laureates from India, Yemen and Tunisia, more than 3,000 children marched at the palace to kick off the "100 Million for 100 Million" campaign.
Mukherjee called the campaign the beginning of a "long overdue" effort to further children's rights.
"Despite the progress the world has made in science and technology, economic development, and in other spheres of human endeavor, there are still over 100 million children who are out of school and are being denied their childhood and are facing exploitation in various ways," said Mukherjee.
"Humankind must realize without any further delay that there can be no progress unless our children are safe and secure, unless they are provided with the freedom and opportunity to become agents of change for larger good of humanity."
Many children live - and die - in desperate conditions, says the U.N. children's agency UNICEF. In 2015 alone, almost six million children died before reaching age 5, mostly due to preventable and treatable diseases.
Millions more are denied access to education because their parents are poor, they are girls or they live in conflict-hit nations such as Syria, Yemen and Iraq.
While poverty is falling globally, nearly half of the world's extreme poor are children, vulnerable to exploitation, says UNICEF.
There are 168 million child laborers across the world, according to the International Labour Organization, with 5.5 million born into servitude, trafficked for sex work or trapped in debt bondage or forced labor.
The launch followed a two-day summit where global leaders and laureates including the Dalai Lama, East Timor's former president Jose Ramos-Horta and Angel Gurria, Secretary-General of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation made commitments to take action to end child exploitation.
The five-year campaign aims to harness the enthusiasm and compassion of young people by working with universities, schools, teachers and student groups to sensitize them about challenges faced by others worse off.
Child rights activist and laureate Kailash Satyarthi, who organized the conference and campaign, described what he called "the globalization of compassion."
"We want to create a new civilization, a new world order where 100 million left out children and 100 million better-off children do not go in two different directions and create much more inequality across the world," he said.
"One hundred million better-off children will speak for the cause of the 100 million left-out children."
The marchers wore white t-shirts and baseball caps and waved flags reading "Do your bit for children."
"I think this is a good idea. There are poor children so much worse off than us. We see them every day in the streets and roads when we go to school" said 12-year-old Savita, a pig-tailed girl from South Delhi. "It's not right."
(Reporting by Nita Bhalla, Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)