As I entered pre-kindergarten in the United States, Iqbal Masih was delivered to a carpet factory owner in Pakistan. Iqbal's parents needed the 600 rupees they received from this transaction to pay for their eldest son's wedding. Iqbal was sold into slavery for the equivalent of $12.
After gaining his freedom at age 10, Iqbal devoted himself to giving those he left behind the chance he now had at an education, love, and control of his circumstances. These are essential parts of life that I know at that age I took for granted. With freedom now in his heart, Iqbal became a confident speaker, a strong voice for social justice in his homeland and the countries around it. But on April 16, 1995, Iqbal was shot while visiting his uncle near Muridke, Pakistan. His assassins, believed to be involved with the carpet-making industry, were never identified or tried for Iqbal's murder.
As Malcolm X once said, "Societies often have killed the people who helped to change those societies." Because of Iqbal Masih and others, I no longer take my freedom for granted. The thing I thank God for most is my freedom, and the thing I ask for most often is for God to protect all those who do not have it.
Craig Kielburger, then a 13-year-old living in Thornhill, Ontario, Canada, read about Iqbal's murder in The Toronto Star. I remember reading a similar story that month in a magazine. Iqbal's story inspired Kielburger in 1995 to found Free the Children, an organization devoted to ending child labor in South Asia. His book, Free the Children: A Young Man's Personal Crusade Against Child Labor, is about Kielburger's seven-week trip to South Asia, visiting the slums, sweatshops, and back alleys of Bangladesh, Thailand, India, Nepal, and Pakistan to see firsthand the ways in which children are exploited.