Each year when Labor Day is approaching, I share about Iqbal Masih and I will continue to do so because he was a legend that requires acknowledgment, airwaves and above all – recognition for what he did.
A Pakistani belonging to Christianity faith, he is widely known as a symbol of abusive child labor in the developing world. Born in 1983 in Punjab, he was put to work at the age of 4 by his family to pay off their debts. It is reported that his family borrowed 600 rupees from a local employer who owned a carpet weaving business. In return, Iqbal had to work as a carpet weaver until the debt was paid off. Every day, he would rise before dawn and make his way along dark roads of the city to the factory, where he and most of the other childhood-deprived children were tightly bound with chains to the carpet looms to prevent escape. Iqbal would work 120 hours a week, seven days a week, with only a 30-minute break. He made 1 rupee a day for the loan, but the loan continued to increase because of his family and interest.
The Beginning of a Revolution
One day at the age of 10, he escaped his slavery, after learning that bonded labor was declared illegal by the Supreme Court of Pakistan and not only escaped, but he actually went to the police to report his carpet weaver master Arshad. However, as usual, the police brought him back to Arshad, who told the police to tie him upside down if he tried to escape again. Iqbal escaped a second time and he attended the Bonded Labor Liberation Front (BLLF) School for former child slaves and quickly completed a four-year education in only two years. Later on, Iqbal Masih helped over 3,000 Pakistani children that were in bonded labor to escape to freedom and made speeches about child labor throughout the world.
You must’ve heard about another hero of Pakistan, Malala Yousafzai. If not, here’s everything you need to know about this amazing woman.
The Reebok Human Rights Award for Iqbal Masih
Today while all of us will enjoy this gazette national holiday, we should not forget who Iqbal was, and what he was known for. While receiving the Reebok Human Rights Award in Boston in 1994, he gave a speech that stated: “I am one of those millions of children who are suffering in Pakistan through bonded labor and child labor, but I am lucky that due to the efforts of Bonded Labor Liberation Front (BLLF), I go out in freedom I am standing in front of you here today. After my freedom, I joined BLLF School and I am studying in that school now. For us, slave children, Ehsan Ullah Khan, and BLLF have done the same work that Abraham Lincoln did for the slaves of America. Today, you are free and I am free too.”