Iqbal Masih was born in 1983 in Muridke, a commercial city outside of Lahore in Punjab, Pakistan, into a poor Catholic family. At the age of four, he was sent to work by his family to help them pay off their debts.
Iqbal’s family borrowed 600 rupees (less than US$12.00) 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 the carpet looms to prevent escape. Iqbal knew his debt would not be paid off any time soon and one day could not take it anymore. He ripped one of the carpets and got into serious trouble with the home factory owner Hussain Khan.
Escape and activism
- At the age of 10, Iqbal escaped his slavery, after learning that bonded labor had been declared illegal by the Supreme Court of Pakistan.
- He escaped and attempted to report his employer Ashad to the police, but the police brought him back to the factory seeking a finder’s fee for returning escaped bonded laborers.
- Iqbal escaped a second time and attended the Bonded Labour Liberation Front (BLLF) school for former child slaves and quickly completed a four-year education in only two years. Iqbal helped over 3,000 Pakistani children that were in bonded labor escape to freedom and made speeches about child labor all over the world.
- He expressed a desire to become a lawyer to better equip him to free bonded laborers, 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.
“Iqbal Masih, a brave and eloquent boy who attended several international conferences to denounce the hardships of child weavers in Pakistan, was shot dead with a shotgun while he and some friends were cycling in their village of Muridke, near Lahore. :(“
*The problem of bonded child labor continues today. Millions of children, especially in Pakistan and India, work in factories to make carpets, mud bricks, beedis (cigarettes), jewelry, and clothing, all with similar horrific conditions as Iqbal experienced.