Today marks the 24th death anniversary of Iqbal Masih, Pakistan’s unsung anti-slavery hero

The year 1983, born in an underprivileged Christian family in Muridke (a commercial city outside Lahore), Iqbal was put into child labour by his own father at the age of 4. At such a tender age, Iqbal belonged to a local owner of carpet weaving business, who would chain him for 12 hours a day so he and his fellows don’t escape.

His father had borrowed Rs 600 and had to force his child into labour at an early age to pay the debt off. Every day, Iqbal would work from dusk to dawn, seven days a week, with only 30 minutes break, and got 10 rupees every day to pay the debt. However, the debt kept increasing but Iqbal wasn’t ready to accept slavery as his fate.

Also See: Pakistan Guilty of Supporting ‘Modern Slavery’ – But What Exactly Does It Mean?

At the age of 10, Iqbal escaped slavery after he came to know bonded labour has been declared illegal by the Supreme Court of Pakistan. He ran away to report about his owner to police, but the police brought him back and suggested his owner tie him ‘upside down’ if he tries to escape again. But freedom was a life’s mission for him. He made another attempt and was successful. His efforts landed him with BLLF (Bonded Labour Liberation Front). He attended school there and completed 4 years of education in only two years.

After learning about his fundamental rights and practically suffering their violation, Iqbal became an activist who preached and worked tirelessly against child bonded labour. He helped over 3000 children attain freedom from child labour and told the ordeals across the world through his powerful speeches.

He wanted to become a lawyer and be equipped with the legal knowledge to better contribute to the cause. In the year 1994, Iqbal received Reebok Human Rights Award in Boston. In his acceptance speech, he said that he is only one among millions suffering from child labour in Pakistan. But due to BLLF, he stands as a free man. He said that the role of Ehsan Ullah Khan and BLLF for child slaves in Pakistan is the same as that of Abraham Lincoln’s for slaves of America.

In April 1995, at the age of 12, Iqbal was assassinated in his hometown, where he was visiting to celebrate Easter with his family. Though very few Pakistanis recognize this child hero, Iqbal is the symbol of freedom, resilience, bravery and resistance who deserves far more recognition to inspire people and honour his efforts.

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