Civil society partnerships

Child labour activist runs in Olympic Torch Relay

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Brazil/2004
Child rights activist Núbia Olivera Silva was selected by UNICEF to participate in the Olympic Torch Relay

RIO DE JANEIRO, 13 June 2004 – This is the story of Núbia, one of three torchbearers selected by UNICEF to participate in the global 2004 Olympic Torch Relay.

Núbia was one of 121 Brazilian torchbearers in the relay—who each ran a 400m leg—a select group that included football legend Ronaldo and UNICEF Brazil Goodwill Ambassador, Renato Aragão. One million people turned out on the streets of Rio de Janeiro to watch the relay on Sunday, 13 June.

Shortly after the starting gun was fired, the crowd’s attention turned to 19 year-old Núbia, who ran into the history books as UNICEF’s first Olympic Torch Bearer.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Brazil/2004
The Olympic torch is passed to 19 year-old Núbia
Núbia’s story

Núbia, a child labour activist, was born in Conceição do Coité, Bahia state. Núbia’s eighth birthday was memorable: she started school that year, but she also began working in the sisal farming industry. School, however, was put on the back burner. Although regularly enrolled, she was hardly ever able to attend. Even when she did make it to class, learning was a challenge; working in the sisal fields was exhausting, and school was an hour’s walk each way.

As Núbia got older, her responsibilities grew.  Núbia’s farm wages were an essential supplement to the family’s income. The little she earned she gave to her parents to help educate and feed their five children, of which Núbia is the eldest.

The 246 million children who are exploited through child labour are living proof of the world’s systemic failure to protect children – and demonstrate why much of UNICEF’s work is focused on building a protective environment, one that safeguards children from exploitation and abuse.

At 13, Núbia entered the Programme of Eradication of Child Labour (known locally as PETI, for its initials in Portuguese), a federal programme supported by UNICEF. The programme helps form an activist coalition of young people, keeping them safe from the exploitation of child labour. PETI supports families financially so they can keep their children at school.

Since entering the PETI programme, Núbia has seen her and her family’s lives change dramatically for the better. With a project called Family Agents Program, coordinated by the NGO, Movimento de Organização Comunitária (MOC), and supported by UNICEF, Núbia works to promote activities that strengthen families and conducts training in communities.

Núbia is grateful for the opportunity to teach families about the dangers of child labour. She does not want other children to experience the difficulty she faced as a child. The Family Agents Program brings families together to discuss civil rights and the importance of exercising their right to vote. As a result, many families are learning how to mobilize in support of their rights and demand public policies that address their needs, including healthcare, education and agricultural extension services.

Besides her work with the rural workers’ union, she enjoys studying, and hopes to become a teacher. In her current work with young people, she encourages the active participation of children both in organizing themselves and in lobbying for public policies focused on youth.  Núbia does all of this on a voluntary basis, and receives only a small scholarship, with which she buys materials for her studies.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Brazil/2004
Núbia travelled to Rio for the first time in her life to participate in the relay

This exceptional young woman was one of the fortunate few selected to carry the Olympic torch in Rio. Excitement, pride and nervousness were the emotions of the day; she had never travelled so far before.

Núbia wants to make the best use of this opportunity to call attention to the dangers of child labour.  Her childhood was “nonexistent,” she says.  This was not her family's choice, but a result of their financial situation and lack of other options.  “Children should be at school and playing,” she says.

Núbia has the spirit of an athlete – one who makes sure everybody steps up to the winners’ podium together. She may still have long way to run, but she’s happy with her performance so far. She has yet to win a medal, but even without one, Núbia is already a champion.


 

 

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