Not just Greta: These are the other times teenagers have influenced world politics

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison declared "kids should be kids" just days after 16-year-old Greta Thunberg called on world leaders to act on climate change. But, here are some examples of young people driving social movements.

After a searing speech at the United Nations, accusing world leaders of selfishly squandering young people’s future by chasing economic growth instead of meaningful climate action, all eyes are on 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg.

With an expression that shifted from deadpan to distraught, the Swedish teenager repeatedly asked “how dare you”, before vowing that future generations “will never forgive you" if politicians refused to act. 

In response to the fiery speech, which took place at the UN’s climate summit in New York on Tuesday, people all over the world have hit back at Ms Thunberg, calling her a “mentally ill child” and, more often, a political puppet who is being used by adults to further an agenda.

Along those lines, News Corp columnist Miranda Devine described her as a victim of “child abuse”.

Greta Thunberg addresses the UN Climate Action Summit.
Source: AAP

Speaking at the United Nations on Thursday morning, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said we had to guard against people who seek to exploit the anxieties of children "for other agendas".

“Our children have a right not just to their future, but their optimism,” he said.

"Above all, we must let our children be children, our kids be kids, our teenagers be teenagers, while we do the work positively together."

While the scale of Ms Thunberg's effect on the climate movement is unprecedented, it’s not the first time a teenager has influenced global politics.

Just hours after the Swedish teen's speech went viral, a photo of another young climate activist was doing the rounds on social media.

Autumn Peltier, 15, is a First Nations girl from Canada who has been fighting for the protection of water quality since she was eight-years-old. In March 2018, she too addressed the United Nations to mark World Water Day, urging the audience to treat water with “human rights”.

“Many people don’t think water is alive or has a spirit, my people believe this to be true,” she said.

“Water is the lifeblood of mother earth … water is around us and sustains us all. Everything is connected to this issue of clean water.”

A single tweet drawing attention to Autumn’s speech has since been re-shared more than 30,000 times. “If you’re teaching about Greta, teach about Autumn as well,” it read.

Earlier this month, 12-year-old Dujuan Hoosan also made headlines when he appeared before the UN Human Rights Council to speak about the over-representation of Indigenous Australian youth in prison.

"I come here to speak with you because the Australian government is not listening. Adults never listen to kids like me, but we have important things to say," Dujuan, who travelled to Geneva from the Northern Territory, said.

Dujuan Hoosan at the UN in Geneva.
Source: Supplied

"I want my school to be run by Aboriginal people. I want, in my future, to be able to learn strong culture and language."

Here are some other young people who have influenced global politics. 

The Parkland school shooting survivors

Before the School Strike 4 Climate there was the student-led March for Our Lives, which last year saw more than one million people protest gun violence across the United States

The movement was spurred by the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, which left 17 students and teachers dead in February 2018. In the days following the horrific attack, five students - David Hogg, 19, Emma González, 19, Jaclyn Corin, 18, Cameron Kasky, 18, and Alex Wind - who survived the shooting decided to do something about it.

The Parkland student activists attend the 2018 Time 100 Gala.
Source: Getty

“People in the government who were voted into power are lying to us and us kids seem to be the only ones who notice and are prepared to call BS,” Ms González told a rally after the shooting.

"Companies trying to make caricatures of the teenagers nowadays, saying that all we are is self-involved and trend-obsessed and they hush us into submission when our message doesn't reach the ears of the nation, we are prepared to call BS."

The five survivors called for the Parkland shooting to be a turning point in the conversation around America's gun laws and were instrumental in launching Never Again, a student-led political action committee that advocates for tighter gun regulation. 

Malala Yousafzai

Pakistani feminist and education activist Malala Yousafzai was 15-years-old when she was shot by a Taliban member in an attempted assassination. The teenager, who had been writing an anonymous blog for the BBC about life for women and girls under the Taliban, was on a bus on her way home from an exam when it happened.

She survived and in 2014 she became the youngest person in history to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, at 17, for her work highlighting "the struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education".

Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai, the youngest Nobel Prize laureate, delivers a speech at the ICC Sydney Theatre in Sydney.
Source: Getty Images

During a visit to Australia in December last year, Ms Yousafzai urged young people not to let their age become a barrier to creating social change.

"I started speaking up when I was 11. You can change the world, whatever your age, background, religion," she said.

"Believe in yourself, your voice, the power you have. Believe in yourself and you can change the world."

Bana Al Abed

Syrian child Bana Al Abed’s Twitter bio contains a simple message: “I am 10-years-old. No more war.”

With the help of her English-speaking mother, Bana used her account to post daily updates from inside the 2016 Seige of Aleppo, reaching people all over the world.

“We have no home now. I got minor injury. I didn't sleep since yesterday, I am hungry. I want to live, I don't want to die,” one tweet, from November 2016, read.

Another, posted alongside an image of a bombed building, said: “This is my reading place where I wanted to start reading Harry Potter but it's bombed. I will never forget.”

Now living in Turkey, the family still use the Twitter account - which has more than 300,000 followers - to share updates from Bana’s new life.

In 2017, Bana published a book titled ‘Dear World’, chronicling her life under the siege and her dreams for a future without violence. In a review by the New York Post, the 10-year-old was described as a “modern-day Anne Frank”.

She has also visited the United Nations in New York.

The 10-year-old still uses her platform for activism, posting a video in June this year urging politicians to put an end to the war in Syria. 

“War is one of the biggest problems that makes refugees. As long as there is war there will always be refugees,” she said. “So I want to say to our leaders, stop this war quickly!”

Published 26 September 2019 at 3:22pm
By Maani Truu