NI: Global Issues for Learners of English > The Issues > Child Labour Contents > Iqbal and Craig


Iqbal and Craig:
Two children against child labour

   the Pakistani child campaigner who was murdered

When Iqbal Masih was four years old, his father sold him to a carpet weaver for $12. That's how Iqbal became a slave, a bonded worker who could never make enough money to buy his freedom. He was chained to his loom, and worked 12 hours a day making carpets.

At the age of 10, Iqbal escaped and he began to speak out against child labour. People listened, not only in Pakistan where Iqbal lived, but around the world. In 1994, Iqbal went to North America, where he visited Broad Meadows Middle School in Massachusetts* and talked to North American children about child labour.

A few months after returning to Pakistan from his visit to the USA, Iqbal was murdered. He was shot while he was riding his bicycle with his friends. He was 12 years old.

BONDED WORKER: a worker who has been bought and will not be free unless they can buy their freedom

CHAINED: Locked to something with metal chains

LOOM: the equipment that a carpet is made on

* When pupils at Broad Meadows Middle School heard about Iqbal's death, they decided to take action. Visit their website and find out about A School for Iqbal

   the Canadian boy who started an international organization

Craig Keilburger was also 12 years old when Iqbal Masih was killed.

The New Internationalist magazine interviewed him 2 years later, when he was 14. He had already started the organization, Free the Children; he had travelled around the world, speaking about child labour and visiting working children; he had appeared on TV, talked to politicians, and testified to a US Congressional committee.


TESTIFY: if you testify, you give evidence about something and make a legal promise that you are telling the truth

The Congress of the United States makes the laws in the US. It has many CONGRESSIONAL COMMITTEES that investigate issues.

Craig talks about Iqbal

It was two years ago that I first read an article about Iqbal Masih. The article talked about his life .... [and it said that] he was murdered. I was also 12 years old at that point and so basically I looked at my life and I looked at his and saw the differences and the similarities.

NI: What were the similarities?

We were the same age. I could imagine Iqbal, I could imagine his dreams were the same - the article said that he wanted to become a lawyer and how he hoped to use that to free children. It talked about how he loved school and spoke about some of the things that he did when he was freed.

But the big things that shocked me were the differences. I'd always thought, well slavery, bonded labour, it's something out of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries - it's been abolished, it no longer exists.

NI: Do you think Iqbal was murdered by the people in the carpet industry? Because he spoke out against them?

His death is a mystery, but whoever he was murdered by, it doesn't matter. It was what he spoke up for that was important - he was an advocate against child labour who started to take action in his own country.

SIMILARITIES: The ways that things are alike (similar)

ABOLISHED: Stopped; banned; no longer allowed

ADVOCATE: somebody who actively speaks out for something

How Craig started Free the Children

I began doing research on the issue [of child labour] and then took what I knew and went to my class. I said: "This is what I want to do - and who wants to help?"

From there it started to expand. Free the Children started as a group of 20 kids in a suburb of Toronto, Canada. Now we have groups in Canada, the US, Australia, Brazil. We have young people involved in Singapore, we get calls from Hong Kong, the United Arab Emirates, all around the world.



Young people have the power to make a difference

The single biggest problem we've had is adults who will not take us seriously, who think that because we are young we will oversimplify the issue of child labour and not do our research. Many of our members are as young as nine or ten years old but we do our research as well as taking action.

Child labour is a very complex problem, that's the truth. But that can't be used as an excuse not to take action. Consumer pressure can change things. In Pakistan, for example, consumer pressure resulted in the Government raising the a mount they spend on primary education ... and building more than one thousand literacy centres. Even companies are beginning to take action in response to the pressure. Young people are beginning to realize their power ...

We're a group of young people who volunteer to give up some of their spare time to work on this issue. We're not against children working, we're against children being abused and exploited.

NI: You're only 14 years old, but you've travelled all over the world, you've often been interviewed on TV, you've talked to prime ministers and senators - isn't this difficult for a fourteen year-old?

Craig & child brick-makerWell, I've met children who work 12 hours a day in agriculture, or sweatshops, or fighting a war. (Picture: Craig with a child brick-maker in Pakistan)

But, at the other extreme in North America, Europe and Australia there are children who are given no responsibility and no chance to get involved. I think the reason why Free the Children has grown so quickly is that we've given young people those opportunities. They haven't seen what they're doing as too difficult: they've seen it as a challenge they can rise to.

Laura Hannant is a girl aged 12, from Ottawa. She just got back from an International Child Welfare Conference in Chicago, where she was one of the main speakers. Before that, she was in South Africa and Holland. So you see what some people can do when they're given the chance!

Free the Children

NI interviewed Craig in 1997. To find out more recent information about Free the Children and its work, you can visit their website:

Free the Children International:


OVERSIMPLIFY: Make something seem too simple/ less complex than it really is.

CONSUMER: consumers are people who use or buy something.

ABUSED: treated in a bad way

EXPLOITED: to exploit someone is to treat a weaker person unfairly for your own advantage



AT THE OTHER EXTREME: completely opposite

GET INVOLVED: to be active in something

This material was adapted from the article, Wunderkinder, in the July 1997 issue of the New Internationalist. .

©1997 2000: the New Internationalist

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Last Modified: 19th November 2000

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