Iqbal Masih: A Hero for Enslaved Children

By DeMattei, Lorraine Kelleher; Grant, Laura Smodey | Social Studies Review, Spring 2009 | Go to article overview

Iqbal Masih: A Hero for Enslaved Children


DeMattei, Lorraine Kelleher, Grant, Laura Smodey, Social Studies Review


In the early 1990s, a young boy from Pakistan, Iqbal Masih, began a crusade with the Bonded Labor Liberation Front (BLLF), to stop child labor in his country. Like most countries, laws forbidding child labor had been written by the Pakistani government. However, many large businesses played such powerful and influential roles in the country that these laws were not enforced. Therefore, many children who were between the ages of 5 and 17, and were not of working age, were forced to work in terrible and sometimes deadly conditions. Many of these conditions resulted in the children being starved, abused and overworked.

Iqbal was one of these children. After escaping from his ordeal at the age of 10, he set out to help other children in his country become free from bondage. One of the ways he did this was by speaking to people in other countries and teaching them about the horrific working conditions for the children of Pakistan. Unfortunately, to this day, these conditions still remain . However, thanks to Iqbal, the BLLF, and other organizations, awareness has now been raised and circumstances are in the process of improving for children.

While child labor is not something new, nor has it been completely resolved, it is a very important topic that needs to be discussed with students. Child labor has been in the spotlight for many years, not only in the United States, but in many other countries. Currently, statistics show that nearly 246 million children between the ages of 5 and 17 are forced to work, many times in hazardous or deadly conditions.

At the last United States census, the population of America was 306 million people (www.census.gov/, 2009), so the total number of children who are forced to work is eighty percent of the population of America. Child labor first began playing a significant role in the economy of the United States during the Industrial Revolution, when poor families living in big cities relied on their children to help bring home a paycheck to feed their families . Another example during this time were farmers who relied on their children for help on the farm. When Child Labor Laws were adopted in the United States, children began to see less responsibility for working and were allowed to attend school.

In other countries today, many of the child labor conditions have remained the same. Many times, children are used as cheap and sometimes free labor. Often their families use the child for money or to pay off a debt. Today, nearly 60% of child labor occurs in Asia, while 23% occurs and Africa and 8% in South America. This is still a very serious issue so students need to be aware that many of the products they buy today have been made by a child who is probably their same age. Some of these products include, bananas, cotton, cocoa, tea, fruits and vegetables. Children who are forced to work in agriculture are often faced with long hours and extreme temperatures with little food or water. They may be exposed to pesticides that often times lead to health problems or even death.

In other areas, such as manufacturing goods for export, there are an estimated fifteen million children who work on carpets, sewing, glass and bricks, fireworks, surgical instruments in countries such as India, Pakistan, Egypt, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Peru. In Pakistan, Iqbal's homeland,many of the children are still required to work in carpet factories or mines, which is a violation of children's rights.

Pakistan law prohibits child labor, yet more than 5 million children under the age of seventeen work in that country. It is estimated that half of these children will die before their twelfth birthday. The reason these children are so sought after is in part due to the cheap labor they provide, but also due to the fact that their bodies are small and limber and it is easier for them to perform the tasks that an adult could not accomplish as easily. …

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