04/11/2011 05:44 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

What If There Were a Springtime for Children?


What if children of all ages rose up and marched in unison to their government capitals, demanding their rights -- human rights to a home, a family, education, and a childhood? Their ranks would be filled with small, thin waifs who live in the street; child laborers and child prostitutes; boys and girls regularly beaten by their caregivers; and perpetually hungry children who have never been to school. This group would swell to millions of children who have lost their parents to AIDS, and millions more who have lost all their kin to civil war and forced migration.

This army of children would have no guns or even sticks, only high-pitched voices that collectively create a huge din, imploring grown-ups to really see them and help them because they are too small to vote or bear arms. What government could turn away from all these little souls, especially with cameras rolling? What adults could deny these sweet eyes and weary faces searching for a way to reach their human potential?

Maybe their march starts in an African capital with an AIDS rate that has stolen a generation of parents from millions of children. From there the protests spread across other African countries to Asia and Latin America. Then children from the West join, first in solidarity, and then armed with their own litany of injustices. In the United States, the "springtime for children" movement enlists foster children who have been torn apart from their brothers and sisters, children who have been cycled through multiple placements and are now homeless youths, and countless more school children who have reason to fear a gunshot far more than a bad grade.

When the "springtime children" first launch their spontaneous campaign, they are certain they have no power, and that their thin voices even in chorus would disappear into the wind. But then the wind starts to change. Some of the older kids begin telling the younger ones that, together, they do have power, and that they own the most awesome and wondrous weapon of all: the future.

Organizations like mine, SOS Children's Villages, are working every day to provide vulnerable children with a voice and a future so that they don't have to march for one. But the reach of NGOs is limited. Governments must do much more for their own people.

These poor and dispossessed children of the world cannot rely on a Facebook revolution. Instead, they must rely on their faces, sad and imploring, everywhere in the world. Grown-ups, then, might take notice before they really do march as angry, young adults eager for votes or guns.