A worldwide mission of kids helping kids

At age 12, Craig Kielburger set out the change the world. Now, 17 years later and with 2 million volunteers, he's still at it.

The following script is from "Children Helping Children" which aired on Nov. 25, 2012. Scott Pelley is the correspondent. Nicole Young, producer.

The things that we're thankful for tend to come from people who devote their lives to something greater than themselves. Many folks come to that devotion late in life. But Craig Kielburger discovered it early. He was in seventh grade when the death of a boy changed his life. It was a change so profound that, through Kielburger, it has now saved and transformed lives around the globe. In that moment, 17 years ago, Craig Kielburger was struck by a profound truth -- something as important as changing the world can't be left to grown ups.

Craig Kielburger: Kids are looking to get involved. They're searching for it. And in an era where, you know adults often are looking for meaning and purpose in their lives, kids also want to assert who they are, not just by the videogames they play or the peer groups they belong to, but by the contribution they make. And that's part of a youth self-identity in the world. And not only is it good for the child, my God, our world needs it.

For information on Free The Children, click here

Craig Kielburger was a child when he noticed the needs of the world. As a 12-year-old in Canada he read about the murder of a boy his age in Pakistan. Iqbal Masih was a slave in a carpet factory. Masih escaped to lead a campaign against servitude. But within two years he was silenced. Kielburger put down the newspaper and rose to speak.

Craig Kielburger: We're talking about labor and the exploitation of children.

He made Iqbal Masih's fight, his own. He talked to classmates, to Congress, to Parliament. To call him "precocious" is an understatement as our own Ed Bradley found out in 1996.

Ed Bradley: But what made you think you could do something about it?

Craig Kielburger: Originally, I didn't think I could, really. But the only way we're going to ever find out is try. So after doing some research, I just walked to my classmates and said, "Listen, I read this article. Here's a problem. This is what I know" -- which at that point was not very much -- and asked, 'Who wants to help?'

Turned out 11 friends wanted to help. With no money to start with, no wealthy parents or early backers, they met in his living room and started a charity called Free The Children.

[Ed Bradley: Why you?

Craig Kielburger: Why not? If everyone in the world could say, "Why me?" -- then nothing ever would be accomplished. Why me? Because I've met those children. Because I've seen them. Because I read the story of Iqbal Masih. Why not me?]

In the 1990's, Kielburger wanted to free children from slavery. So he went to Asia recruiting activists and government authorities to bust child sweatshops and sex traffickers. There were early successes. But, when we went overseas with Kielburger, he told us freeing children was much more complicated than he had first imagined.

Scott Pelley: What are some of the things that didn't work out? What have you learned?

Craig Kielburger: You know, probably the lowest moment ever was the first time in Southeast Asia, when we met children who we had freed before who are back in slavery. To see that some of those same kids would end up back in the same grinding, backbreaking, desperate poverty, there is nothing that makes your heart fall more than that.

Kids he freed were being pulled back into servitude, years later, by centuries old culture and traditions shaped by poverty and illiteracy.

Scott Pelley: At the point that you saw that your original big idea wasn't working, why didn't you throw in the towel?

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