MASIH IQBAL (1979-1995)

MASIH, IQBAL (1979-1995) Pakistan’s use of child-bonded labor in industries such as carpet weaving was brought to light in a vivid way in early 1995 by the murder near Lahore of Iqbal Masih, a spokesman for the Bonded Labor Liberation Front (BLLF) Masih himself had worked in the carpet industry He was sold into bonded labor by his mother when he was only 10 years old Chained to the loom on which he worked, he came to the attention of the BLLF when its representatives visited the village in which he was working Taken to Lahore, he received some education in a special school run by the organization and then went on to become an untiring and eloquent spokesman for the organization In 1994, he received the Reebok Foundation award for his long-time crusade against bonded labor He was also awarded a fellowship by Brandeis University in the United StatesWhile preparing to leave for the United States, Iqbal Masih was murdered in his village near Mureedke, a town 25 kilometers north of Lahore and well known for its carpet industry The murder was widely publicized in the West by the BLLF and led to the suspension of carpet imports from Pakistan by a number of Western countries, including Australia, Austria, and Sweden An impression was created that Iqbal Masih had been killed by the representatives of the carpet industry, an accusation that was vehemently denied by carpet makers

After a detailed investigation carried out by its staff, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan came to the conclusion that the carpet industry was not involved in Masih’s murder; rather the killing was an act of random violence At the same time, the government ordered a judicial inquiry into the murder; a commission was set up under the chairmanship of a judge of the Lahore High Court, to investigate the circumstances that led to the killing But the murder and the coverage it received in the Western media achieved what Iqbal Masih had set out to do: to inform the world that a great deal of carpet weaving in Pakistan was done on hand looms that involved children working in inhumane circumstances

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