“I would like to do what Abraham Lincoln did…
I would like to do it in Pakistan.”
The finest carpets in South Asia are woven by children because their tiny fingers can tie small, tight knots, and because they are paid just a few rupees. In Pakistan, a 12-year-old boy who protested against child labour was murdered.
Iqbal Masih (b. 1983 – April 16, 1995) was a Pakistani boy cast into bondage at age four because of his family’s inability to repay a debt, but through extraordinary courage and perseverance became an international symbol for the dignity of children and a martyr for justice—all by the tender age of twelve.
Iqbal first had to work an entire year as an apprentice with no pay. After that he was “paid” about 20 cents US per day. (This is in quotes because he didn’t receive the money. It was subtracted by the rug-maker, his employer, from what he owed.) However, his employer also added to what he owed the cost of his food and the tools he used to do his work. If Iqbal made mistakes, he was fined, and this, as well as interest, was added to the loan balance.
Iqbal Masih, received The World’s Children’s Honorary Award 2000 posthumously, for his struggle for the rights of debt slave children. Iqbal became a debt slave at an early age, for the owner of a carpet factory who then sold him on.
Iqbal was around 5 or 6 when he started working in the carpet factory. He worked from early morning until evening and was often treated badly. When his mother Anayat needs money for an operation, she took out a loan from a carpet factory owner. The loan, or ‘peshgi’, was in Iqbal’s name. That means that Iqbal owes Ghullah the 5000 rupees (100 US dollars) that his mother’s operation cost. Now Iqbal was a debt slave and the factory owner was in charge of his life.
Five years later, Iqbal was liberated from debt slavery. He started attending the Bonded Labour Liberation Front (BLLF) school. Iqbal talked to his friends who worked at carpet factories and spoke at meetings. He gave many carpet workers children the courage to leave their owners. The owners threatened Iqbal who, after receiving an award in the USA, was murdered on 16 April 1995.
Today, Iqbal is a symbol for the fight against harmful child labour and slavery all over the world.