Iqbal was born in 1983 in Muridke, a very small, rural village outside of Lahore in Pakistan. At age four, he was sold into bondage by his family. Iqbal's family borrowed 600 rupees ($16) from a local employer who owned a carpet weaving business, and in return, Iqbal was required 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 country roads to the factory, where he and most of the other children were tightly bound with chains to prevent escape. He would work 14 hours a day, seven days a week, with only a 30-minute break. Iqbal stood less than 4 feet tall and weighed only 60 pounds.
Escape and activism
At the age of 10, Iqbal escaped his slavery, after learning that bonded labor was declared illegal by the Supreme Court of Pakistan. But he was caught by police and brought back to Arshad and told him to tie him upside down if he tried to escape again. Soon after, the police were bribed and Iqbal was tied upside down anyways. Iqbal escaped a second time and later joined the Bonded Labour Liberation Front (BLLF) of Pakistan to help stop child labor around the world. Iqbal helped over 3,000 Pakistani children that were in bonded labor escape to freedom, and he made speeches about child labour throughout the world.
Iqbal was fatally shot in Muridke on April 12, 1995, shortly after returning from a trip to America. He was 13 at the time. Some say that he was shot by a farmer, and some say that he was murdered because of his influence over bonded labor. His funeral was attended by approximately 800 mourners. There is a book called Iqbal that shares a story of his legacy.
Iqbal's cause inspired the creation of organizations such as Free The Children, a Canada-based charity and youth movement, and the Iqbal Masih Shaheed Children Foundation, which has started over 20 schools in Pakistan. In January 2009, the United States Congress established the annual Iqbal Masih Award for the Elimination of Child Labor.
In 1994, Iqbal visited Broad Meadows Middle School in Quincy, Massachusetts, and spoke to 7th graders about his life. When the students learned of his death, they decided to raise money and build a school in his honor in Pakistan.
Iqbal's story was told in a book entitled Iqbal by Francesco D'Adamo, a fictional story based on true events, from the point of view of a girl named Fatima.
- Blair Underwood (20 March 2002). "Presentation and Acceptance of Reebok Youth in Action Award". In Robin Broad. Global Backlash: Citizen Initiatives for a Just World Economy. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 199. ISBN 978-0742510340. Retrieved 31 May 2013.
- Sandy Hobbs; Jim McKechnie; Michael Lavalette (1 October 1999). Child Labor: A World History Companion. ABC-CLIO. pp. 153–154. ISBN 978-0874369564.
- "Who Was Iqbal Masih?" mirrorimage.com.
- Gannon, Kathy (May 31, 1995). "Young Activist's Death Hits Pakistani Carpet Sales". Los Angeles Times.