Iqbal Masih (Punjabi: اقبال مسیح; 1 January 1983 – 16 April 1995) was a Pakistani Christian child labourer and activist who campaigned against abusive child labour in Pakistan.

Iqbal Masih
اقبال مسیح
Ehsan Ullah Khan meets a shy and afraid Iqbal Masih.png
Masih with Bandhua Mukti Morcha activist Ehsan Ullah Khan in Sheikhupura (September 1992)
Born1 January 1983
Muridke, Punjab, Pakistan
Died16 April 1995(1995-04-16) (aged 12)
Muridke, Punjab, Pakistan
Cause of deathAssassination
OrganizationBandhua Mukti Morcha (BMM)
Known forAbolitionism
AwardsReebok Human Rights Award (1994)
World's Children's Prize for the Rights of the Child (2000, posthumous)
Tamgha-e-Shujaat by the Government of Pakistan (2022, posthumous).

He was assassinated on 16 April 1995. On 23 March 2022 (Pakistan Day), he was posthumously awarded the Tamgha-e-Shujaat by the government of Pakistan.[1][2]

Family background and bonded labourEdit

Iqbal Masih was born in 1 January 1983 in Muridke, a village outside of Lahore in Punjab, Pakistan, into a poor Catholic Christian family.[3][4][5] His parents were Saif Masih, laborer, and Inayat Bibi, who worked as a house cleaner. The former later abandoned the family leaving Inayat to work and Iqbal's older sisters taking care of him and his siblings.[6]

In 1986, Saif Masih was to marry off one of his sons but lacked savings and was unable to finance this: banks would not provide loans while government aid programs were few. He took a loan of 600 rupees from a thekedar (carpet factory owner), using the only collateral he had, his children. The loan was to be paid off by four-year-old Iqbal's labor, and included undisclosed interest and expenses, an institution known as peshgi. Due to the illegality of selling children, the transaction was informal, allowing the loaner to add arbitrary expenses to the loan without oversight.[6][7]

Expenses were to include the cost of a year of training (during which Iqbal would not be paid), tools, food and fines for any mistakes Iqbal was to make.[6][7] He was paid 1 rupee a day.[4] Due to the high interest rate at which the loan was taken, it stood at 13,000 rupees prior to his escape.[8]

At the carpet maker's, Iqbal was chained to a loom and made to work as much as 14 hours a day. He was fed little and beaten, more than other children because of his attempts at escaping and refusal to work.[9] These conditions stunted his growth; he had the height and weight of a 6-year-old when he was 12.[10]

Explaining the background behind bonded labourers in Pakistan, American professor C. Christine Fair states that "Large numbers of Christians in the Punjab and Sindh, in particular, are trapped in bonded labour or slavery in work like brick kilns and carpet-weaving. Around 80% of brick kiln workers in some areas are Christians working to pay off family debts long since paid in absolute terms, yet who are illiterate and remain powerless to do anything about their circumstances. The plight of Pakistan's bonded labourers came to international attention briefly with the murder of 12-year-old Christian Iqbal Masih in 1995".[11]

Escape and activismEdit

At the age of 10, Iqbal escaped his slavery, after learning that bonded labour had been declared illegal by the Supreme Court of Pakistan.[12] 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 labourers. 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.[13] Iqbal helped over 3,000 Pakistani children that were in bonded labour escape to freedom and made speeches about child labour all over the world.[9]

He expressed a desire to become a lawyer to better equip him to free bonded labourers, and he visited other countries, including Sweden and the United States, to share his story, encouraging others to join the fight to eradicate child slavery.[14]

In 1994 he received the Reebok Human Rights Award in Boston, and in his acceptance speech he said: "I am one of those millions of children who are suffering in Pakistan through bonded labour and child labour, but I am lucky that due to the efforts of Bonded Labour Liberation Front, I go out in freedom I am standing in front of you here today. After my freedom, I joined 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 free too."[15]

Plaque in memory of Iqbal Masih in Almería, Spain
Eshan Ullah Khan visits the Iqbal Masih Square in Santiago de Compostela, Spain
'The girls and boys of Vitoria-Gasteiz in homage to Iqbal Masih', memorial in Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain


"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."[16]

Iqbal was fatally shot by the "carpet mafia," a gang that killed slaves if they ran away from a carpet factory; while visiting relatives in Muridke on 16 April 1995, Easter Sunday.[5][17] He was only 12 years old.[18] His funeral was attended by approximately 800 mourners. A protest of 3,000 people, half of whom were younger than 12, took place in Lahore demanding an end to child labor in the week that followed.[9]

His mother said she did not believe her son had been the victim of a plot by the "carpet mafia".[19] However, the BLLF disagreed because Iqbal had received death threats from individuals connected to the Pakistani carpet industry,[19] the most recent of which had been two weeks prior to his death.[18]

Following his death, Pakistani economic elites responded to declining carpet sales by denying that they were using bonded child labour in their factories and by employing the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to brutally harass and arrest activists working for the BLLF. The Pakistani press conducted a smear campaign against the BLLF, arguing that child labourers received high wages and favourable working conditions.[9]


  • Iqbal's cause inspired the creation of organizations such as We Charity,[20] a Canada-based charity and youth movement, the Iqbal Masih Shaheed Children Foundation,[21] which has founded over 20 schools in Pakistan, and GoodWeave International (formerly Rugmark).
  • In 1994, Iqbal visited Broad Meadows Middle School in Quincy, Massachusetts,[22] and spoke to 7th graders about his life. He inspired the famous afterschool program run by teacher Ronald Adams called ODW (Operation: Day's Work).[clarification needed][citation needed] When the students learned of his death, they decided to raise money with a financially productive program called "Penny Power," and build a school in his honour in Kasur, Pakistan.[citation needed]
  • Iqbal's story was depicted in a book entitled Iqbal by Francesco D'Adamo,[23] a fictional story based on true events, from the point of view of a girl named Fatima.
  • In 1994 he received the Reebok Youth in Action Award.[24]
  • In 1996 the Movimiento Cultural Cristiano[25] (MCC- Christian Cultural Movement) and Camino Juvenil Solidario (CJS- Youth Solidarity Path) promoted 16 April as International Day against Child Slavery in Spain and South America.[26]
  • In 1998 the newly formed Istituto Comprensivo Iqbal Masih, a comprehensive education institute comprising several schools in Trieste, Italy, was named after him.[27]
  • In 2000 he received a posthumous World's Children's Prize for the Rights of the Child and the Piazzale dei Traghetti Iqbal Masih was inaugurated in Genoa, Italy.
  • The 2006 book The Little Hero: One Boy's Fight for Freedom tells the story of his legacy.[28]
  • In 2009 the United States Congress established the annual Iqbal Masih Award for the Elimination of Child Labor.[29]
  • On 16 April 2012, the Council of Santiago, after a proposal of Movimiento Cultural Cristiano, inaugurated a square named after Iqbal in Santiago de Compostela, Spain.[30]
  • The 2014 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to children's rights advocate Kailash Satyarthi[31] on grounds of prevention of child labour and promotion of female education. Satyarthi mentioned Masih in his Nobel Peace Prize award speech, dedicating it to him and other martyrs.[32]
  • In 2016, the "X Iqbal Masih Rugby Tournament" was held in Catania, Sicily.[33]
  • On 17 April 2017, the University of Salamanca committed itself to celebrating every 16 April as a Day Against Child Slavery on behalf of Iqbal Masih.[34]
  • In May 2019, Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy released an Urdu-animated short titled 'Iqbal Ka Bachpan' which explores the story of Iqbal under its 4-part series, Shattering The Silence.[35]
  • On 23 March 2022, President of Pakistan Arif Alvi conferred the Sitara-e-Shujaat (award for bravery) posthumously to Iqbal.[36]
  • Movie Iqbal - The Forgotten Story


  1. ^ "President confers civil awards on prominent citizens, foreign nationals". The Express Tribune. 24 March 2022.
  2. ^ "CONFERMENT OF PAKISTAN CIVIL AWARDS" (PDF). Cabinet Division, Government of Pakistan.
  3. ^ Fair, C. Christine; Gregory, Shaun (8 April 2016). Pakistan in National and Regional Change: State and Society in Flux. Routledge. p. 38. ISBN 9781134924653. The plight of Pakistan's bonded labourers came to international attention briefly with the murder of 12-year-old Christian Iqbal Masih in 1995.
  4. ^ a b Winter, Jeanette (1999). Tikvah: Children's Book Creators Reflect on Human Rights. Chronicle Books. p. 84. ISBN 9781587170973. Iqbal Masih was born into a poor Christian family in the village of Muridke, in Pakistan.
  5. ^ a b World Vision, Volumes 38-39. World Vision. 1995. p. 41. Police harassment and death threats levelled at Kailash Satyarthi, chairman of the South Asian Coalition on Child Servitude, have prompted worldwide concern for the Indian activist's safety. But it's too late for Pakistani Christian Iqbal Masih, 12, a former bonded carpet-weaver who traveled the world crusading against child labor and succeeded in shutting down many carpet factories in Pakistan. On Easter Sunday, 1995, he was shot dead in his home village in Muridke. A victim of target killing.
  6. ^ a b c Susan Kuklin. Iqbal Masih and the Crusaders Against Child Slavery. Macmillan Publishers.
  7. ^ a b Iqbal Masih; Blair Underwood (2002). "Presentation and Acceptance of Reebok Youth in Action Award". In Robin Broad (ed.). Global Backlash: Citizen Initiatives for a Just World Economy. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 199. ISBN 978-0742510340. Retrieved 31 May 2013.
  8. ^ "Boy leader of child labour protest is shot dead". The Independent. 19 April 1995.
  9. ^ a b c d "Child Labor in Pakistan". The Atlantic. February 1996.
  10. ^ "Archbishop calls for Day Against Child Slavery to be dedicated to memory of Catholic boy". Catholic News Agency. Retrieved 2021-12-20.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  11. ^ C. Christine Fair (2013). Pakistan in National and Regional Change. Routledge. p. 37. Large numbers of Christians in the Punjab and Sindh, in particular, are trapped in bonded labour or slavery in work like brick kilns and carpet-weaving. Around 80% of brick kiln workers in some areas are Christians working to pay off family debts long since paid in absolute terms, yet who are illiterate and remain powerless to do anything about their circumstances. The plight of Pakistan's bonded labourers came to international attention briefly with the murder of 12-year-old Christian Iqbal Masih in 1995. Having escaped slavery, Iqbal campaigned against bonded labour and was killed to silence him.
  12. ^ Sandy Hobbs; Jim McKechnie; Michael Lavalette (1 October 1999). Child Labor: A World History Companion. ABC-CLIO. pp. 153–154. ISBN 978-0874369564.
  13. ^ Kile, J. "Iqbal Masih |". Retrieved 2021-07-15.
  14. ^ Chowdhry, Wilson. "Iqbal Masih Pakistan's Forgotten Hero". Archived from the original on 2019-04-02. Retrieved 2016-03-31.
  15. ^ "Human Rights Youth in Action Award" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2016-03-10. Retrieved 2016-02-01.
  16. ^ "Boy leader of child labour protest is shot dead". The Independent. 19 April 1995.
  17. ^ "Iqbal Masih's Heart-Rending Tragedy". 19 January 2016.
  18. ^ a b "At Age 12, A Prominent Activist Is Gunned Down". Associated Press. 18 April 1995.
  19. ^ a b "Plot Discounted in Death of Pakistani Boy". 21 April 1995.
  20. ^ "Iqbal and Craig: Two children against child labour". 19 January 2016. Archived from the original on 1 February 2016. Retrieved 19 January 2016.
  21. ^ "Iqbal Masih Shaheed Children Foundation". 19 January 2016. Archived from the original on 1 August 2015. Retrieved 19 January 2016.
  22. ^ "Broad Meadows Middle School, Paragraph 5". 19 January 2016.
  23. ^ Francesco D'Adamo (19 January 2016). "Iqbal".
  24. ^ GoodWeave (18 March 2013). "Iqbal Masih, Child Hero". Archived from the original on 2021-12-22 – via YouTube.
  25. ^ "Movimiento Cultural Cristiano – Web Oficial".
  26. ^ "16 April campaign. International day against child slavery".
  27. ^ "Iqbal Masih - Storia". Archived from the original on 2016-12-14. Retrieved 2016-05-10.
  28. ^ Crofts, Andrew (2006). The Little Hero: One Boy's Fight for Freedom - Iqbal Masih's Story. ISBN 9781904132844.
  29. ^ "Iqbal Masih Award". 19 January 2016.
  30. ^ Plaza Iqbal Masih
  31. ^ "The Nobel Peace Prize 2014". Retrieved February 11, 2016.
  32. ^ ""Let Us March!" Nobel Lecture by Kailash Satyarthi, Oslo, 10 December 2014". Retrieved February 11, 2016. I give the biggest credit of this honour to my movement's Kaalu Kumar, Dhoom Das and Adarsh Kishore from India and Iqbal Masih from Pakistan who made the supreme sacrifice for protecting the freedom and dignity of children. I humbly accept this award on behalf of all such martyrs, my fellow activists across the world and my countrymen.
  33. ^ Stampa, Ufficio. "X Torneo "Coppa Iqbal Masih" 23/24 aprile 2016".
  34. ^ "Colegio Oficial de Graduados Sociales de Salamanca".
  35. ^ "SOC Films releases part two of Shattering the Silence". The News International. 30 May 2019.
  36. ^ "Late Catholic activist wins Pakistan's highest bravery award". UCA News. 25 March 2022.

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit