Even in this day and age, there are 218 million kids who are being forced to work in precarious conditions. Paying back a debt, working for money or just cruel slavery; child labor still exists in this modern world. At a young age when they should be imbibing knowledge at a school, these innocent kids are being forced into doing back-breaking work. Among them was a kid from Pakistan who pioneered the movement against child labor. His name was Iqbal Masih.
Born in 1983 in a small village called Muridke, Iqbal Masih was born into a poor Christian family. When Iqbal was around 5 years old, his mother loaned some money from the carpet factory owner – Ghullah. The loan was taken in return for Iqbal working at the factory. Thus, started Iqbal’s struggles.
Iqbal, along with other kids worked in harsh environments and got paid too little in return. The kids worked for 12 hours a day, six days a week. The owner often beat up the kids for not working. Complaining to the policemen was futile as they were bribed by the owner and took no action. Iqbal accepted his fate and kept working without any hope of freedom. As the years went by, Iqbal’s family was in need of more and more money. They kept taking loans from Ghullah to fulfil their needs, while Iqbal was the one paying the price. Now, he had to work even on his free day and was often taken away at night to complete weaving the carpets.
It was 1993 when The Supreme Court of Pakistan declared bonded labor as illegal. This stirred Iqbal to escape from the factory. Not long after fleeing, he was captured and returned to the owner. He was beaten up and chained inside the factory. However, his second attempt at escaping was successful. Later, he joined forces with the Bonded Labor Liberation Front (BLLF), where he was further driven to fight against the child laborers and slave owners. He started educating his friends and even spoke at meetings; spreading around the slogan – “We are free!”.
In 1994, Iqbal was invited to Sweden to talk about his life as a debt slave. Later that year he received the Reebok Human Rights Award in the USA. At this point, Iqbal was the forerunner in liberating children all around the world from the clutches of slave owners. Ghullah and other slave owners were not happy about this. They threatened Iqbal and his family. This, however, did not deter Iqbal from his goal. He wanted to become a lawyer and fight for the suffering kids.
However, Iqbal’s dream came to a screeching halt when he returned to his hometown for Easter in 1995. On the way to visit his relatives, Iqbal was murdered in cold blood. The word of his murder spread like wildfire.
People all around the world mourned his death. Later in 2000, Iqbal received an honorary, posthumous World’s Children’s Prize for his relentless battle against debt slavery. In 2009, The US government started an annual ‘Iqbal Masih Award’ to honour the abolition of child labor. Iqbal has since become the beacon and inspiration for the fight against slavery and child laboring. In a world where slavery still exists, we need to sincerely question our humanity. In recent years, this number has decreased substantially, however in countries like Somalia, Afghanistan and Pakistan child labor is still booming and is the main source of work. Our future depends on these kids, who are chained inside a factory and forced to work their whole life. In the words of Nelson Mandela: “Children are our greatest treasure. They are our future.”