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You are now paying your final visit to a boy from the near past. It 
is early 1995, and you are in a town somewhere in Pakistan, a 
nation carved out of British-ruled India only fifty years ago You are 
standing at the back of an old, run down meeting hall, waiting to 
hear a speech given by the boy you are here to meet. His name is 
Iqbal Masih. As you look around at the crowd; you notice that 
most of the audiences are young like you. But in all other ways, 
these children who stand there, quietly murmuring to each other, 
are not like you. Some have faces pinched with hunger, some bear 
scars on their bodies. 


Some are even bent over as if they are already very old. All of 
them are thin, poorly dressed, and their faces have lost the 
carefree innocence of youth. They look as though they have seen 
too much suffering, too young. They also look afraid. 

Iqbal Masih enters with a few adults and is introduced by a man 
who praises his courage and intelligence. He reminds the audience 
that if anyone needs help, to please let him know, and he will do 
what he can. You cannot see Iqbal and have difficulty listening to 
his speech. It is hot in the room, people are shuffling about and 
there is no microphone. 


Even so you manage to catch most of what he is saying. He is telling these 
young people what their rights are. He says that if they are bonded 
workers, they are free now, they do not owe their masters any more 
labor, that it is not only wrong, it is against the law for their masters to 
mistreat and underpay them. He is telling them that they have the right to 
go to school, and that they can get help if they want it. 

Some of the children leave before Iqbal has finished his speech. One 
whispers that she will be beaten if anyone finds out she has been here 
Others stay to the end and leave looking more hopeful titan when they 
arrived. A few stay to talk to the adults who came with Iqbal who have 
promised to help. 

After everyone has left and quiet has fallen, Iqbal shakes, hands with you 
and you stroll together through the town. He is a handsome boy but his 
body has suffered, he is so small that he does not look twelve. His back is 
bent and there are scars on his arms and hands. 

Once outside you walk slowly in the heat along a narrow lane with small, square houses on 
either side. Men ride by on bicycles and a truck goes past, covered with elaborate, colorful 
decorations . Iqbal begins his story. 

My story is just like the stories of the children you saw in the meeting hall. Only the details 
will differ. I come from a small country village in the Punjab called Muridke. My eldest 
brother was getting married and my parents had no money to pay for the wedding, so they 
accepted a loan from a man who said that they could pay it back by sending me to work in 
his carpet factory. 

I was four years old when I went to work for him. I hardly ever saw my family after that I was 
small and scared, and soon found out I had reason to be. The factory owner knew that 
people like my parents have little or no education, so they cannot read a contract or bond or 
even know there could be such a thing. So he had managed to trick my parents quite easily. 
The interest he was charging on the loan was more than he was "paying" for my work .As a 
result my parents' debt was increasing all the time. 

The people who ran the factory were very cruel to me. At times they even chained me to a 
loom so I had to squat all day long to work. That is why my back is bent over, from not being 
allowed to stand up. And look at my hands from tying many thousands of knots, they are all 
knotted, too. You will notice that I wheeze a lot from breathing in carpet dust day in day out 
for so many years. 

There were other children besides me working in the factory as well. We had to work twelve 
to fourteen hours a day, even seven days a week with no time for going outdoors and 
playing, and we were beaten if our owner thought we were misbehaving. And of course we 
had no schooling whatsoever. 

They fed us very little and the food was 
poor quality without much nourishment in 
it. They even took the cost of the food out 
of our little pay, and we never got any 
money for ourselves because it was all 
going to pay the debts of our parents. 

When I was ten, I was rescued from this life 
of pain and misery by a man called Ehsan 
Ulla Khan. In 1988, he founded the Bonded 
Labor Liberation Front (BLLF) to free 
children like me from bonded labor. I had 
gone to a meeting like the one you just 
saw, where I discovered that bonded child 
labor is illegal now. I was so moved on 
finding out about my rights that before I 
knew it, I was standing up and making a 
speech at the meeting - a speech that was 
then printed in a newspaper! After that, I 
refused to go back to my "owner" and 
Ehsan Ulla Khan helped me get into one of 
the schools he had founded for children 
like me. I joined the BLLF and, by giving 
talks like the one tonight, I have helped 
other children escape from bonded labor. 

I became one of the organization's best 
speakers, and my speeches continued to be 
printed in the newspapers. I soon became 
famous, and I was sent to the United States 
and Europe to carry our message there. 

Just a little while ago, in December 1994, 

I received the Reebok Prize for Youth in 

This is an international Award! 

I am happy to be helping other 
children to gain their freedom and 
their rights. I think I have saved 
about 3000 children so far. 

Now that I am at school, I like 
studying and learning. One thing I 
am learning is more about child labor 
in my own country, and in others. In 
Pakistan, although bonded child 
labor is now illegal, no one makes 
any arrests and children are still 
working as near-slaves in many 

MU t 


J Hr 



The biggest employer of children is the carpet weaving industry. Over a 
million children and maybe more are doing this kind of work for pennies 
a day. Then the carpets are sold in Europe and North America to rich 
customers who know no better. Not only does this go on in our country, 
but in India and Bangladesh as well. 

And all over the world, children are doing other kinds of hard work for 
very long hours every day of the week. There are over 73 million children 
under the age of fourteen doing many different kinds of work. Most, but 
not all of them, live in Asia, Africa and South America. They are treated 
very badly, and then the things they make are sold in rich western 
countries. These children are to be found in factories stuffing toys for big 
western toy companies, or sewing sequins on fancy gown, or sharpening 
surgical instruments. Some of them work in dangerous places like glass 
or brick factories with no protection from sharp glass or hot furnaces, or 
they are put at risk making matches or fireworks. Some suffer horrible 
burns and yet receive no medical help. Many children also work from 
very young ages as servants for rich people, or they do farm work like 
cutting sugarcane or many-many hours each day. 

I have learnt that the child labor is growing all over the works in so-called 
developing countries. It is true that poor families in poor countries need every 
member to help making a living. I think it is an honorable thing to work hard and 
take pride in work well done. And no matter whether they are rich or poor, all 
children who help their families can feel good about what they contribute. 

But there is something very wrong when children are forced to work as hard or 
harder than grown-ups and it is wrong for factory owners to steal us from our 
families with lies. Sometimes these factory people even kidnap children to work 
for them. When they begin to work, the youngest ones often receive no pay at 
all. I do not think that this helps poor families, because it dooms their children to 
yet more poverty and ignorance. 

Children are dying young from diseases caused by work they are forced to do, or 
they are growing up crippled or shrunken like I am. They have no chance to go to 
school to be educated. If they were, they couldn't be cheated like my parents 
were. It cannot be right to beat us and brand us, or to make us work while 
refusing to hire fully grown people. The main reason they want children, you see, 
is because we are small and helpless. 

You can see that I get very angry when I think of these things. But I know that my 
speaking out is making a difference. The carpet industry here is already losing 
millions of dollars because rich people in the West do not want to buy goods 
made by enslaved children. I am hoping that becoming famous will allow me to 
reach even more people around the world. To me, children are the future wealth 
of any country, if they are free to grow up and to be educated to do more than 
unskilled work. 

I feel good about my own future. When I grow up, I want to become a lawyer, so 
that I can help to fight injustices against children. Right now my life is good, too. 
Now that I am free, I can see my mother and father again, and play with my 
cousins. I have a more normal life once more - if you don't count the death 
threats! The "carpet mafia" we call them. They are angry factory owners who 
want to keep things the way they are and don't care at all about our welfare. 

I don't worry about these threats too much though. 

I see that I must go now. There are the other BLFF people waiting for me. I am 
glad to have met you. Go home and tell your families about what I have told you, 
Okay? You can help too, you know. Goodbye! 

Iqbal went home to visit his village of Muridke in the spring of 1995. On 
April 16 he was riding a bicycle with two of his cousins when he was shot 
dead under mysterious circumstances. He was only twelve years old. 

His murder was never solved, but gave suspicion still rests on the 
"Carpet Mafia" Iqbal Masih has been so successful in exposing the evils 
of child labor that Pakistan lost about 14 million U. S. dollars in sales in 
one year alone. If factory owners were behind the murder, it backfired 
because sales dropped another 10 million dollars after the world heard 
the terrible news. 

One person who learned about the murder of Iqbal Masih was another 
twelve-year-old boy — front Toronto, Ontario, in Canada. Craig 
Keilburger had never heard of Iqbal Masih before, but he was so upset 
when he read about the murder that he founded almost single-handedly 
a children's volunteer organization to fight enforced child labor. It is 
called "Free the Children." 

Craig's efforts to publicize the evils of child labor have been so successful 
that he has been able to travel around the world, speaking to heads of 
state and government agencies, and helping to raise money for 
organizations like BLLF that free children and give them homes and 
education. One of the many ways he has helped to "free the children" 
has been to urge people to buy only carpets with a "Rugmark" label. 

This guarantees that they are not made using child labor. Craig has also 
founded branches of Free the Children in many countries. 

There are many other organizations around the globe that work to end 
enforced child labor. Just a few of the other organizations are: UNICEF, 
through the United Nations; Child Rights Information Network in 
London, England; International Programme for the elimination of Child 
Labor in Geneva, Switzerland; Set the Children Free in New Zealand; 
Community Aid Abroad in Australia; and U.S. Child Labor Coalition in the 
U.S.A. If you want to help out, too, you can contact one of them, or 
another organization of your choice. One of the easiest ways to find 
these and similar organizations is to look on the Internet or to ask for 
help at your local library 

Iqbal Masih became a martyr for what he believed in, but he achieved 
something important both in life and in death. In life, he showed other 
children that just because they are small does not mean they are 

He gave comfort and hope to other children like him and helped them 
to become free. Even his death could not stop the impact he made. His 
cause was taken up by others including children in other, wealthy 
countries — children like Craig Keilburger. They too have discovered 
that they can do something to help the world, that they too can be 
young heroes.