Third Anniversary of the Murder of Iqbal Masih, Pakistani Child Activist (1983-1995)
Iqbal Masih Remembered
WASHINGTON, D. C. (April 15, 1998) Iqbal Masih made a difference. His was the voice of a child pointing out to adults the horrible costs and injustices of child slavery. Twelve years old and one of the mightiest voices in Pakistan against child labor, Iqbal was a compelling survivor of slavery in Pakistan's carpet industry.
For half of his life, Iqbal was bonded in the hand-knotted carpet industry. Enslaved at the age of four, for an advance of less than $16 to his parents, he was chained to his loom, tying tiny knots for twelve hours a day, every day. Six years later, when he confronted his boss demanding his freedom, the debt he owed had risen to $419.
Iqbal's slavery is not unusual in a country where estimates of bonded child labor run as high as eight million. At least half a million children are bonded to the carpet industry. Although outlawed in 1992, under Pakistan's Bonded Labor Abolition Act, the "advance" system that bonds people -- and often entire families or generations of families -- to their employers continues.
Receiving international attention as the recipient of the 1994 Reebok Youth In Action Award, Iqbal was known as a champion for bonded children. He was the president of the youth wing of the Bonded Labor Liberation Front (BLLF) in Pakistan, helping to free hundreds of children from slavery over the last two years of his life.
Iqbal thrived in his freedom. Once rescued from slavery, he went through five years of school curriculum in three years at a BLLF-run primary school. His dream was to become a lawyer and continue efforts to free bonded children. Boston's Brandeis University pledged to provide a four-year scholarship to Iqbal when he finished his schooling in Pakistan.
Iqbal's life touched us. The junior high school students he met with in Quincy, Massachusetts launched a campaign, Kids Campaign to Build a School for Iqbal, spanning the U.S. and several countries after his death to raise money to build a school in his name in the providence where he lived and died. The students recently celebrated the first year anniversary of the school's existence.
Iqbal's death, widely reported in the United States, heightened awareness of child servitude in products Americans buy. Many consumers in the United States vowed to not buy carpets from Pakistan and other countries where child labor is prevalent unless they can be assured the carpets are made by adults. A growing number of Americans refuse to be a party to a marketplace that promotes the slavery of children.
Iqbal Masih was shot to death in Muritke, Pakistan on April 16, 1995. Because he received repeated death threats over the last weeks of his life, many thought Iqbal was a target because of his activities in fighting child labor. Pakistani authorities report Iqbal's death as accidental.
Applaud his life; remember his commitment; and vow to continue his work.
How you can commemorate the life of one courageous child and help restore childhoods to working children
For more information about the "School for Iqbal" contact the Kids Campaign to Build A School for Iqbal.
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