Child labor still exists. Before children’s rights were put into place, child labor was the norm. While it was an acceptable course of action for manufacturers to hire children, they were given no benefits nor privileges. They were hired because they cost less, but their conditions were deplorable. When Child Labor was made illegal, the world celebrated. Children could now play and go to school. Work was no longer the reality. But this is the ideal. Presently, around the globe, children are still used by manufacturers and factories. According to UNICEF, there are about 250 million children between the ages of 5 to 14 who are engaged in child labor all over the world.
The story of Iqbal Masih brings the reader to a story of Child Labor in Pakistan, wherein kids are employed in carpet making and brick making as a means for family to pay their debt. This book, in many ways, came to my hands in one of those unexpected book-buying moments. I had an intention of buying a book about China as written by Adeline Yen Mah, however beside it sat this book. It was unfamiliar to me, but for somehow I was moved to buy it. I don’t regret buying it instead.
The novel, Iqbal, was written by Francesco D’ Adamo and translated by Ann Leonori. It’s a fictionalized tale based on a young Child Labor hero named Iqbal Masih. The book, as mentioned earlier is set in Pakistan wherein poor families are forced to give their children to merchants to work off their debts. However, never was there a time a child was able to pay off the debt.
Forced and Bonded Child Labor
The Novel introduces us to child labor classified as “forced and bonded.” The author offers a description of this in the book:
“Bonded labor is a system in which a person works for a preestablished period of time to pay off a debt…In many countries, bonded child labor is considered an indispensable part of the economic system. When families are in debt, they ‘rent,’ or bond, their children…to work for ‘masters,’ who have complete control over the children’s lives until the debt is paid.”
Iqbal, and Fatima the narrator, are bonded to a carpet-making factory where a child’s manual dexterity is an asset. Children squat in front of their looms, breathing dust and lint as they weave carpets. While others simply are asked to sit and work, other children are chained to their looms. They work from daybreak to late evening with little food or proper care. In the novel, we see the resignation of these children to their fate. They work without much hope for a future, wherein dreams become the only thing they could possess.
“I hadn’t dreamed for months. I suspect many of us had stopped dreaming, but we were afraid to admit it: We felt so alone in the mornings. So we invented them, and they were always lovely dreams, full of light and color and memories of home.”
Iqbal, upon arrival to the carpet factory gave the impression of being handsome because of his sweet and deep eyes that weren’t afraid. In a place where everyone was in constant fear, Iqbal radiated. Iqbal, as frail and tiny as he seemed was spirited. He kept his spirit alive spending time during the nights going through every memory he had. He had resolve. While he was in many wasy afraid, he still had in him, a spark of courage.
“Iqbal was standing next to his loom. Behind him was his carpet, that marvelous carpet with its complicated design in a rich blue that had never been seen before. It was perfect…He took the knife that we all used to cut the ends of the knots, raised it above his head, and seemed to look each of us in the eye. Then he calmly turned and cut the carpet from top to bottom, right through the middle.”
It was a rebellious act, but he did it. He was punished, but he accomplished one thing: He inspired every child to be a little less afraid. Less paralyzed.
Iqbal’s life deserves to be told because this was a child who fought for himself and for other children. He may be young, but he fought the good fight. He had the passion and wisdom of someone beyond his age. I am grateful I found this book. It inspires courage. What was beautiful about Iqbal’s story is not only his success, but his ability to rise from every fall and how he musters courage not for himself, but for everybody. And aren’t all heroes that way, people who despite what they’ve been through have hearts that are still able to give.
Most of us might not know Iqbal and I am glad I am given this opportunity to share this find. If you could, do read it.
“Iqbal’s name has become the symbol of the battle to literate millions of children throughout the world from violence and slavery.”