Iqbal Masih

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Iqbal Masih (Urdu: اقبال مسیح‎; 1983 - 16 April 1995) was a Pakistani boy who became a symbol of abusive child labour in the developing world.


Iqbal Masih was born in 1983 in Muridke, a commercial city outside of Lahore in Punjab, Pakistan. At age four, he was sold into bondage by his family.[1] Iqbal's family borrowed 600 rupees (less than $6.00) from a local employer who owned a carpet weaving business. 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 12 hours a day, seven days a week, with only a 30-minute break. He paid 3 cents a day for the loan, but the loan continued to increase. Iqbal stood less than 4 feet tall and weighed only 20 kg.

Escape and activism[edit]

At the age of 10, Iqbal escaped his slavery, after learning that bonded labour was declared illegal by the Supreme Court of Pakistan.[2] He was caught by police and brought 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 Labour Liberation Front (BLLF) School for former child slaves and quickly completed a four-year education in only two years.[3] Iqbal helped over 3,000 Pakistani children that were in bonded labour to escape to freedom and made speeches about child labour throughout the world.

When Ehsan met Iqbal the boy was shy and afraid, but Khan realized he had many things to say.

He expressed a desire to become a lawyer to better equip him to free bonded labourers, and he began to visit other countries including Sweden and the United States to share his story, encouraging others to join the fight to eradicate child slavery.[4]  

In 1994 he received the Reebok Human Rights Award in Boston and in his acceptance speech he said: "I am one of those millions of children who are suffering in Pakistan through bonded labour and child labour, but I am lucky that due to the efforts of Bonded Labour Liberation Front (BLLF), I go out in freedom I am standing in front of you here today. After my freedom, I join 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."[5]


"Iqbal Masih, a brave and eloquent boy who attended several international conferences to denounce the hardships of child weavers in Pakistan, was shot dead while he and some friends were cycling in their village of Muritke, near Lahore".[6]

Iqbal was fatally shot in Muridke, Pakistan on 16 April 1995,[7] shortly after returning from a trip to America, by Muhammad Ashraf , a heroin addict.[8] He was 12 years old at the time. A police report on his shooting said Masih was shot by a man whom the boy and two relatives had seen having sex with a donkey, and his mother said she did not believe her son had been the victim of a plot by the "carpet mafia".[9] The Bonded Labor Liberation Front of Pakistan, though, disagreed.[9]

His funeral was attended by approximately 800 mourners. The Little Hero: One Boy's Fight for Freedom[10] tells the story of his legacy.


Ehsan Ullah Khan visits the Iqbal Masih Square in Santiago de Compostela.
  • Iqbal's cause inspired the creation of organizations such as Free The Children,[11] a Canada-based charity and youth movement, and the Iqbal Masih Shaheed Children Foundation,[12] which has started over 20 schools in Pakistan.
  • In 1994, Iqbal visited Broad Meadows Middle School in Quincy, Massachusetts,[13] 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 Kasur, Pakistan.
  • Iqbal's story was depicted in a book entitled Iqbal by Francesco D'Adamo,[14] a fictional story based on true events, from the point of view of a girl named Fatima.
  • In 1994 he received the Reebok Youth in Action Award.[15]
  • In 1996 the Movimiento Cultural Cristiano [16] (MCC- Christian Cultural Movement) and Camino Juvenil Solidario (CJS- Youth Solidarity Path) promoted the 16 of April as International Day against Child Slavery in Spain and South America [17]
  • In 1998 the newly formed Istituto Comprensivo Iqbal Masih, a comprehensive education institute comprising several schools in Trieste, Italy, was named after him.[18]
  • In 2000 he received a posthumous World's Children's Prize for the Rights of the Child and the Piazzale dei Traghetti Iqbal Masih was inaugurated in Genoa, Italy.
  • In 2009 the United States Congress established the annual Iqbal Masih Award for the Elimination of Child Labor.[19]
  • On 16 April 2012, the Council of Santiago, after a proposal of Movimiento Cultural Cristiano, inaugurates a Square named after Iqbal in Santiago de Compostela, Spain.[20]
  • The 2014 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to children's rights advocate Kailash Satyarthi[21] on grounds of prevention of child labour and female education. Satyarthi mentioned Masih in his Nobel Peace Prize award speech, dedicating it to him and other "martyrs".[22]
  • In 2016 "X Iqbal Masih Rugby Tournament" in Catania, Sicily.[23]
  • April 17 of 2017 Salamanca's University committed itself to celebrate every 16th of April a Day Against child slavery on behalf of Iqbal Masih.[24]


  1. ^ 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. 
  2. ^ Sandy Hobbs; Jim McKechnie; Michael Lavalette (1 October 1999). Child Labor: A World History Companion. ABC-CLIO. pp. 153–154. ISBN 978-0874369564. 
  3. ^ {}
  4. ^ {}
  5. ^ "Human Rights Youth in Action Award" (PDF). 
  6. ^ Boy leader of child labour protest is shot dead
  7. ^ "IQBAL MASIH'S HEART-RENDING TRAGEDY". 19 January 2016. 
  8. ^
  9. ^ a b
  10. ^ Andrew Crofts (19 January 2016). "The Little Hero: One Boy's Fight for Freedom - Iqbal Masih's Story". 
  11. ^ "Iqbal and Craig: Two children against child labour". 19 January 2016. 
  12. ^ "Iqbal Masih Shaheed Children Foundation". 19 January 2016. 
  13. ^ "Broad Meadows Middle School, Paragraph 5". 19 January 2016. 
  14. ^ Francesco D'Adamo (19 January 2016). "Iqbal". 
  15. ^
  16. ^ { Movimiento Cultural Cristiano}
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^ "Iqbal Masih Award". 19 January 2016. 
  20. ^ Plaza Iqbal Masih
  21. ^ "The Nobel Peace Prize 2014". Retrieved February 11, 2016. 
  22. ^ ""Let Us March!" Nobel Lecture by Kailash Satyarthi, Oslo, 10 December 2014.". Retrieved February 11, 2016. I give the biggest credit of this honour to my movement's Kaalu Kumar, Dhoom Das and Adarsh Kishore from India and Iqbal Masih from Pakistan who made the supreme sacrifice for protecting the freedom and dignity of children. I humbly accept this award on behalf of all such martyrs, my fellow activists across the world and my countrymen. 
  23. ^
  24. ^

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