Starting Saturday in many countries around the world, children are taking part in a campaign to highlight the need for greater access to education. It follows the release earlier this week of a UNICEF report that says 115 million children, mostly girls, are still denied a basic education. The campaign is called Cardboard Kids.
Organizers of the event say young boys and girls have made thousands of cardboard kids – the cutouts representing children who cannot go to school for one reason or another. They’ll be taking them to the media and government officials with the message, “Send my friend to school.”
Plan International is a leading organizer of the campaign. Tom Miller is the organization’s CEO.
"If you don’t go to school, you miss out on all kinds of other opportunities later in life to improve your lot – and get out of this abject poverty that is just a disastrous cycle in so many countries," he says.
He says the promise of primary education for every child by 2015 is one of the Millennium Development Goals set by the United Nations. The use of the Cardboard Kids is part of the Global Campaign for Education Action Week.
He says, "There are a lot of kids – some estimate up to 100 million around the world – who just do not have the opportunity to get an education. And if you can’t get an education you really start out life with several strikes against you. And the whole idea is that someone needs to be speaking up for the kids, who don’t have voices themselves."
He says the reasons many kids don’t go to school often revolve around poverty.
"In some countries, it’s because the kids can’t afford school uniforms and in some countries because the kids have to stay home and work. Girls particularly are vulnerable because when there are choices made about who works and who gets school uniforms and stuff like that, the girls often lose out," he says.
He says many children are not able to go to school because their births were never officially registered – and they cannot enroll without a birth certificate. And without being registered, authorities may not even know the children exist.
The head of Plan International says while poverty is a major problem, the Cardboard Kids campaign is not simply aimed at throwing money at the problem.
"More money not wisely spent is money wasted. Clearly money is part of any solution. But if you can get a much greater sensitization around the world that this is indeed a serious problem and focus on things that are doable. You’ve got to be able to address the questions that parents have: I can’t afford to send all seven of my kids to school, I need more bread winners in the family because we’re poor. And so you’ve got to look at those underlying causes of poverty," he says.
Plan International says as part of the Cardboard Kids campaign, children in Niger will ask government leaders to make a written commitment to educating all children. And in Lowero, Uganda, children are scheduled to lead a march “demanding the right to education for all.”