The story of a 20th century child laborer

Iqbal Masih was 13 years old when he was assassinated in his home country of Pakistan. Born in 1983 in Muridke, Pakistan, Iqbal was forced into child labor when his mother ‘loaned’ his name to a local businessman for Iqbal’s older brother’s wedding. When 2 years went by and the debt still unpaid, Iqbal’s mother was forced to give him up for child labor.

Bonded labor is essentially selling your services in an attempt to pay off a debt. It is the promise of physical labor in return for a loan. [1]

He worked in the businessman’s carpet factory for 14 hours a day and 6 days a week. Not only was the pay minimal (didn’t support basic needs or even come close to buying his freedom back) he was also beaten and whipped when his work suffered or when he wasn’t moving as fast. [2]

Although bonded, slave and child labor are all outlawed in Pakistan, rampant corruption within the government and the police force allow children to be taken advantage of.

At 10 years old, Iqbal was able to flee with some fellow youths who also worked at the carpet factory.When they ran to a police station to report the heinous crime, the officers were more inclined to collect on the ‘finder’s fee’ than to protect the young boys.

He was forced back to Arshad, Iqbal’s ‘owner’ and under the direction of the police, was chained to his carpet machine. He was forced to continue to work through a combination of beating and starvation.

His determination and relentlessness allowed him to attend a freedom day celebration of the Brick Layers’ Union 2 years later where he learned of his rights as a laborer and also the unlawful nature of child slaves.

He volunteered to speak in regards to his story that day and union leaders decided to help him and fight for his freedom. After numerous inquests into the legality of the carpet factory (which employs many child slaves), Arshad decided to free Iqbal.

There Iqbal went on to become an advocate, leader and literal poster child for the fight against child slavery. His small stature due to numerous beatings and malnutrition made him appear to be 6 or 7 years old when he was already 12. He used his size to sneak into factories and talk to the children to see if they were forced labor.

He eventually joined the Bonded Labor Liberation Front School, a school for child slaves or escaped child slaves, where he finished his schooling in 2 years as opposed to 4. He wanted to become a lawyer so that he could continue his fight against child slavery.

After flights, speeches and conferences around the world advocating for the freeing of all child laborers, he returned home on April 16, 1995. He was assassinated in broad daylight as he was shot in the back with a 12 gauge shotgun.

Police documents claim the killing was an accidental firing caused by a local, Ashraf Hero, whilst many around the world believe that this is a blatant coverup for big manufacturers who wanted Iqbal dead.

The Human Rights Commission looked into this case and agreed with the police’s findings although controversies and rumours are still floating about more than 20 years later.

At only 13 years old he not only helped free hundreds (if not thousands of slaves) but he also stood up for what he believed in. He was and is REAL and TRUE to what he is. He died for his cause. He is a martyr.

We can only hope that there are more people who are willing to fight for a just cause. Or simply stand up and say ‘That’s wrong.’

Actors or celebrities with a big platform and a large following need to use that as a megaphone to pine for justice. People such as Ashton Kutcher [4] , Akon [5] and Zach Galifianakis [6] are doing the right things with their popularity.









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