Iqbal Masih

Iqbal Masih: A Brave Pakistani Martyred

Iqbal Masih a Pakistani boy who became a symbol of abusive child labor in the developing world. Iqbal, a  Pakistani, received The World’s Children’s Honorary Award 2000 subsequently, for his struggle for the rights of debt slave children. He becomes a debt slave at a very early age, for the owner of a carpet factory who later sold by his honor.

Iqbal Masih: Biography

Iqbal Masih was born in 1983 in Muridke, a commercial city outside of Lahore in Punjab, Pakistan, into a poor Christian family. At age four, he was put to work by his family to pay off their debts. Iqbal’s family borrows 600 rupees from a local employer who owns a carpet weaving business.

Iqbal Masih Started working

Iqbal is around 5 or 6 when he starts work in the carpet factory. He works from early morning until evening. He is regularly treated badly. When his mother Anayat needs money for the operation, she takes a loan from a carpet factory owner. The loan is in Iqbal’s name. That means that Iqbal repays Ghullah the 5000 rupees which are his mother’s operation cost. Now Iqbal is a debt slave and the factory owner is in charge of his life.

Conditions of working

The conditions in which Iqbal is working are dreadful. Iqbal and the other bond children require to stubby on a wooden bench and bend forward to tie millions of knots into carpets. The children require to follow a specific pattern, choosing each thread and tye each knot carefully. The children are not allowed to speak to each other. If the children start to daydream, a guard may hit them or they may cut their own hands with the sharp tools they used to cut the thread.

Iqbal works six days a week, as a minimum of 14 hours a day. The room in which he works is hot because the windows are not open to protect the quality of the wool. Only two light bulbs hang above the young children.


If the children talk back, ran away, are homesick, or are physically sick, they get punished. Punishment included severe beatings, ties with chains to their loom, prolonged periods of isolation in a dark closet. Iqbal often did things and receive frequent punishments. For all this, Iqbal was paid with 60 rupees (about 20 cents) a day after his traineeship comes to an end.


At the age of 10, Iqbal escapes his slavery, after learning that bond labor is declaring illegal by the Supreme Court of Pakistan. He escapes and then went to the police to report Arshad, but the police bring him back to Arshad, who told the police to tie him upside down if he tries to escape again. Iqbal escapes a second time and he attends the Bonded Labour Liberation Front (BLLF) School for former child slaves and quickly completed a four-year education in only two years. Iqbal helps more than 3,000 Pakistani children that are in bonded labor at that time and made speeches about child labor all over the world.

Activism-Iqbal Masih

He expresses a desire to become a lawyer to better train himself to free bond laborers. Masih starts to visit other countries that include Sweden and the United States to share his story. He encourages other people to join the fight to eliminate child slavery.

In 1994 he receives, the Reebok Human Rights Award in Boston and in his speech he said that:

“I am one of those millions of children who suffer in Pakistan through bond 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 today. After 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 also free.

Death of Iqbal Masih

April 16, 1995, on Sunday, Iqbal spent the day paying a visit to his family for Easter. After spending some time with his mother and siblings, he travels to visit his uncle. Meeting up with his cousins, the three boys ride a bike to the uncle’s field to bring his uncle his dinner. On the way, the boys stumbled upon someone who shot at them with a shotgun. Iqbal dies at the spot. One of his cousins is shot by boys in the arm; the other is safe.

Mystery of Death

How and why Masih was shooted? It is a mystery? The original story is that the boys tripped upon a local farmer. Terrified, high on drugs, the man shot at the boys, not aiming to kill Iqbal specifically. Many people do not believe this story. They believe that leaders of the carpet industry dislike the power that Iqbal is ensuring and order him murder. As of now, there is no proof that this is the case.

On April 17, 1995, the grave of him is in Muridke. There are approximately 800 funeral-goers in attendance.

International recognition

Iqbal’s activism takes him international recognition and he received an award prize in Stockholm and Boston. In 1994 he receives the Reebok Youth icon action award.  He inspires the formation of organizations such as “Free the Children”, in Canada.

The foundation name after him called “the Iqbal Masih Shaheed Children Foundation”, which includes more than 20 schools in Pakistan.  The “World’s Children’s Prize for the Rights of the Child” is an award to him subsequently in 2000.

The United States Department of Labor’s Bureau of International Labor Affairs is the annual “Iqbal Masih Award for the Elimination of Child Labor”.


The problem of bonded child labor continues today. Millions of children, especially in Pakistan and India, work in factories. They make carpets, mud bricks, beedis (cigarettes), jewelry, and clothing, all with similar horrific conditions as Iqbal experienced.

I hope the child labor in the country starts to reduce with time. We can do our best by helping them in any major ways.

At last, Stay safe and Stay healthy.

Read more: The Ottoman Empire (Part I)

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