"So Many Future Leaders are Lost" by Nancy Paulina Criollo Alvarez, Ecuador

A boy sells garlic in the Corobastos wholesale food market, the distribution point for fresh produce in Bogot, the capital of Colombia. Many of the children at Corobastos work throughout the night without sleep and then often go to school. UNICEF/ HQ99-0317/Jeremy HornerYes, there he is, the boy with the shovel and pick in a dark cave, inhaling something that smells like mercury and toxic gas. He wants with all his heart to be one of those kids who enjoy going to school and learning. He dropped out long ago when his father could not afford to send him anymore, when he saw his brothers and mother living in extreme poverty. There was no other option but the mine, where he toils in unhealthy conditions, where work is an insult to human dignity, where his human rights are not respected and his wage does not correspond to the work he performs.

But this is not the story of one child: it is the story of thousands of children who drop out of school and work as near-slaves in the mining industry in South America . And it is not the whole story, but the beginning, a tale of the violation of one of the most important human rights -- the right to education. All children have the right to free education, particularly primary education.

While some kids learn how to read, child workers spend most of their time in traditional mining which exposed them to all sorts of risks. While kids in school are beginning to have a new perspective of the world and maybe a career goal, working children only know how to use their hands and cannot see what the world would bring them if they had an education. Poverty is a vicious circle that only a few can break, and the first measure to success is education. If only by violating this human right so much brainpower and so many future leaders are lost, how much are we losing?

And then I ask myself: What will you do?

Adapted from Nancy Paulina Criollo Alvarez , Age Group 16-18, Ecuador, in Spanish, Highly Commended, Writing Contest for International Human Rights Day 2006, Cyberschoolbus, United Nations