Iqbal Masih

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Iqbal Masih (Punjabi, Urdu: اقبال مسیح; born: 1983, died: 16 April 1995) was a Pakistani child who became a symbol of abusive child labor 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 ($6.00) 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, paid 3 cents a day for the loan, but no matter what Iqbal did the loan just got bigger and bigger. Iqbal stood less than 4 feet tall and weighed only 60 pounds.

Escape and activism[edit]

At the age of 10, Iqbal escaped his slavery, after learning that bonded labor was declared illegal by the Supreme Court of Pakistan.[2] 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 anyway. 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 to escape to freedom and, he made speeches about child labour throughout the world. Iqbal decided to receive an education during this period, and completed four years of schooling within two years. 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 labor and child labor, 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 has done the same work that Abraham Lincoln did for the slaves of America. Today, you are free and I am free too"[3]


Iqbal was fatally shot in Muridke on April 16, 1995,[4] shortly after returning from a trip to the U.S. He was 12 years old at the time. Some say that he was shot by a farmer, some say that he was murdered because of his influence over bonded labour. His funeral was attended by approximately 800 mourners. There is a book called The Little Hero [5] that shares a story of his legacy.


Iqbal's cause inspired the creation of organizations such as Free The Children,[6] a Canada-based charity and youth movement, and the Iqbal Masih Shaheed Children Foundation,[7] 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.[8]

In 1994, Iqbal visited Broad Meadows Middle School in Quincy, Massachusetts,[9] 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 depicted in a book entitled Iqbal by Francesco D'Adamo,[10] a fictional story based on true events, from the point of view of a girl named Fatima.

The 2014 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Kailash Satyarthi [11] 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".


  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. ^ "Human Rights Youth in Action Award" (PDF). 
  4. ^ "IQBAL MASIH'S HEART-RENDING TRAGEDY". 19 January 2016. 
  5. ^ Andrew Crofts (19 January 2016). "The Little Hero: One Boy's Fight for Freedom - Iqbal Masih's Story". 
  6. ^ "Iqbal and Craig: Two children against child labour". 19 January 2016. 
  7. ^ "Iqbal Masih Shaheed Children Foundation". 19 January 2016. 
  8. ^ "Iqbal Masih Award". 19 January 2016. 
  9. ^ "Broad Meadows Middle School, Paragraph 5". 19 January 2016. 
  10. ^ Francesco D'Adamo (19 January 2016). "Iqbal". 
  11. ^

External links[edit]