Faced with seemingly insurmountable obstacles and hardships in his short lifetime, Iqbal Masih stood tall in the face of adversity and rose to become an ardent spokesman against chid labor.When Iqbal Masih visited the Broad Meadows Middle School during his brief visit to the U.S. in December 1994, he shocked and outraged the students with his life story. The 10 to 14-year-olds began an intense letter writing campaign that resulted in 670 letters written to heads of governments where child bonded labor exists. Iqbal was recognised by Forefront, a network of young human rights advocates, and was awarded a Reebok Human Rights Award in 1994.
Iqbal was just 4 years old when he was sold into bondage to a carpet factory owner in Punjab because his father needed a loan to pay for his eldest sons wedding. To repay the loan, Iqbal worked more than 12 hours each day in the carpet factory, but the exorbitant interest rates meant that the debt grew even larger.
At the age of 10, Iqbal attended a human rights meeting, and his life changed radically. He gave an impromptu speech which was printed in the local papers. He refused to return to his owner and managed to obtain his freedom. He spoke in front of large audiences to testify about the realities of life for child bonded labourers and helped many other children to free themselves from bondage. Iqbal Masih was shot dead in his home town of Muridke, Punjab, in April 1995 when he was just 12 years old. His killers have never been brought to justice.
In theory, bonded labour has been abolished in Pakistan. A law abolishing it was passed in 1992, and bonded labour is prohobited under the constitution. Nevertheless, the system of bonded labour persists, and millions of bonded labourers work in agriculture, in the carpet and brick kiln industries and as domestic labour. Many are children. Sometimes bonded labourers are bought and sold by their owners. The practice of bonded labour violates Article 4 of the UDHR prohibiting slavery or servitude. Human beings must not be owned, bought or sold.No one has the right to enslave anyone else. Slavery is a crime.
Anti-Slavery International (ASI) is one organisation that works to help children like Iqbal. ASI has a long history of promoting the eradication of slavery and slavery-like practices, and seeking freedom for everyone who is subjected to them. The abuses which ASI opposes include: slavery and the buying and selling of people as objects; trafficking of women and the predicament of migrant workers who are trapped into servitude; debt bondage and other traditions which force people into low status work; forced labour; forced prostitution; abusive forms of child labour; and early or forced marriage and other forms of servile marriage. ASI focuses on the rights of people who are particularly vulnerable to exploitation of their labour, notably women, children, migrant workers and indigenous peoples.
by Broad Meadows Middle School