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We Remember Iqbal Masih’s Life

Iqbal2

 

By Timothy Ryan

[Tim Ryan of the Solidarity Center is a CLC member, who wrote this piece on  May 3, 1995 for The Christian Science Monitor. Iqbal Masih was murdered on April 16, 1995]

Anyone who knew Iqbal Masih, the 12-year-old boy recently assassinated in Lahore, Pakistan, by someone believed to be a feudal landlord and carpet manufacturer, was struck by his brilliance.

I don’t simply mean his intellectual abilities, though once rescued from slavery at a carpet loom this young activist demonstrated a tremendous aptitude for learning. He went through five years of school curriculum in three. Although malnutrition and abuse left him, at the age of 12, physically smaller and more frail than my nine-year-old daughter, it was clear that his mind, his ambition, and his spirit burned brightly.

When I saw him last December in Karachi on his return from the United States, where he received a Reebok Human Rights Award, he was filled with the excitement of his first airplane ride, a new Instamatic camera, his visit with other schoolchildren in Boston, and the unimaginable promise that one day he might attend a university. Brandeis University had pledged to give a four-year scholarship to Iqbal when he finished his studies in Pakistan.

Then someone motivated by greed, by fear, by hatred, pulled the trigger of a shotgun and obliterated this promise.

I first met Iqbal last year through my work with the Bonded Labor Liberation Front as a representative of the AFL-CIO in South Asia.

The BLLF has worked dauntlessly for years to free thousands of bonded and child laborers, Iqbal among them. After working six years at a carpet loom, starting at the age of four, Iqbal was rescued by the BLLF when he was 10.

Iqbal’s rescue was due in no small part to his own guts. Last December he told me that one day two years ago in the village where he was enslaved as a carpet weaver, he saw BLLF posters declaring that bonded and child labor was illegal under Pakistan law and secretly contacted BLLF activists. At the risk of his own life, Iqbal led the BLLF to the carpet looms where they rescued hundreds of children, who might still be in slavery if not for his courage.

Iqbal3It seems medieval, and perhaps it is, but for years carpet manufacturers, brick kiln owners, landowners, and manufacturers of sporting goods and other products in Pakistan have maintained an unrelenting grip on bonded laborers and children. Some estimates run as high as 20 million bonded and child laborers. At least half a million children are employed in the carpet trade alone.

Because of the current tension between Islamic and Christian communities in Pakistan, some apologists want to paint the killing of Iqbal as a purely religious matter. On one level this is a mere smoke screen. But on a more complex and sinister level, there is some connection between the fact that Iqbal was Christian and the fact that he was pressed into slavery in the first place.

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Education-for-Girls Activist Malala Yousafzai Walks Out of the Hospital after Surviving an Assassination Attempt

The world is celebrating great news that came in with the New Year: 15-year-old education activist Malala Yousafzai walked out of a Birmingham, England hospital on January 4th, nearly three months after the Taliban shot her in the head and neck during an assassination attempt in Pakistan’s Swat Valley. Malala spoke out on behalf of her generation of girls having access to education —a position that was in sharp variance with Taliban extremists who tried to silence her.

Malala’s recovery, although far from complete, is being hailed as a miracle and her resilience is being celebrated far and wide. Malala’s courage has touched many, including pop-star Madonna, who dedicated a song to the girl in the days after the attack. She appeared at a concert with Malala’s name in large letters across her back.

Former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown cited Malala as a hero and visited Pakistan to press for open access to education. “Can Pakistan convert its momentary desire to speak out in support of Malala into a long term commitment to getting its three million girls and five million children into school?” asked Brown, who is currently serving as the United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education. Brown’s advocacy in support of Malala has led to calls to provide school access to all girls by 2015.

For more than two decades, the Child Labor Coalition has fought to protect children from the worst forms of child labor and Malala’s vision is central to that effort. “Access to education is one of the keys to reducing child labor—that’s what Malala is fighting for and that’s why her work has been so important,” noted CLC Co-Chair Sally Greenberg and the Executive Director of the National Consumers League. According to the Global Campaign for Education, 53 percent of out-of-school youth worldwide are girls, and millions of girls face discrimination, sexual and physical abuse, neglect, exploitation and violence.

In Pakistan, educational inequalities abound. The World Bank estimates that only 57 percent of girls and women can read and write, and in rural areas, only 22 percent of girls have completed primary-level schooling, compared with 47 percent of boys. According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of International Labor Affairs, nearly one third of Pakistani children aged 5-14 are deprived of schooling, and the country is making “no advancement in efforts to eliminate the worst forms of child labor.” Inspired by Malala’s case, however, the government of Pakistan has signaled its desire to provide equal access to education.

“The right to education is fundamental, and we stand with Malala and all those around the world who are working with us to make sure all children have equal access to high-quality public education,” said American Federation of Teachers Secretary-Treasurer Lorretta Johnson, also a CLC co-chair, in the days following the attack.

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CHILD LABOR COALITION PRESS RELEASE: Child Labor Coalition decries shooting of 14-year-old education activist Malala Yousafzai in Pakistan


For immediate release: October 12, 2012
Contact: Reid Maki, (202) 207-2820, reidm@nclnet.org

Washington, DC—The 28 members of the Child Labor Coalition (CLC) today expressed their condemnation of the shooting attack on 14-year-old education activist Malala Yousafzai by Taliban forces on October 9 in Pakistan’s Swat Valley. Malala dared to be an advocate for the education of girls, a stance that made her a target for Taliban extremists who shot her twice—in the head and the neck. She clung to life as the world celebrated the first United Nations International Day of the Girl Child on October 11.

“The idea that the Taliban would viciously attack a teenage girl to threaten other girls seeking an education is deplorable,” said American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Secretary-Treasurer Lorretta Johnson, a CLC co-chair. “The AFT condemns this cowardly act in the strongest of terms and applauds the people of Pakistan for rising up to proclaim that such barbarity is unacceptable in their country or anywhere in the world. The right to education is fundamental, and we stand with Malala and all those around the world who are working with us to make sure all children have equal access to high-quality public education.”

Malala’s advocacy began at age 11, when she blogged about Taliban atrocities in Pakistan’s Swat Valley. She soon began blogging about the closing of schools for girls, which were a result of ultraconservative views toward women’s roles in Pakistani society. According to published reports, she felt forced to hide her school books and feared for her life, knowing that her advocacy might make her a target of the Taliban. At age 11 she said, “All I want is an education. And I am afraid of no one.”

“Education is power, especially for girls. Malala knows this and has used her voice to advocate for others,” said Lily Eskelsen, Vice President of the National Education Association, a CLC member. “The Taliban underestimated Malala from the beginning, but her power has already been unleashed. They cannot call it back. An educated girl becomes an informed woman, able to make the best choices for her own well-being and that of her family; generations are impacted. As we mark the International Day of the Girl Child, Malala speaks to all of us to take action on our responsibility to see that girls’ human rights are respected.”

“Malala’s heroism and advocacy for girls inspires us all,” said CLC Co-Chair Sally Greenberg, Executive Director of the National Consumers League. “Access to education is one of the keys to reducing child labor—that’s what Malala is fighting for and that’s why her work has been so important. According to the International Labor Organization’s latest statistics, the number of girls in child labor worldwide fell between 2004 and 2008 from 103 million to 88 million. We need to keep that progress up. We need to keep Malala’s vision alive and provide girls with unfettered access to education.”

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Child Soldiers Add Questions for Pakistan

Bill Gunyon, OneWorld Guides

(OneWorld.net) – A new focus on Pakistan in the UN Secretary-General’s annual report on Children and Armed Conflict may complicate the task of rebuilding relations with the US in the aftermath of the killing of Osama bin Laden.

Submitted to the Security Council as part of the UN’s responsibility for promoting and protecting the rights of children, Ban Ki-moon’s 55-page report paints a grim picture of the entrapment of both boys and girls in the world’s most degrading conflicts.

From the section headed “Developments in Pakistan”, it is clear that children have become active agents within the flow of warmongering personnel and equipment across the notoriously porous border with Afghanistan. Their assignments range from passive couriers to tragically unwitting suicide bombers in both countries.

The report refers to the escalation of terrorist and sectarian violence across Pakistan by groups linked to the Taliban and Al Qaeda, such as Tehrik-i-Taliban and Lashkar i Jhangvi. “Children have been used by these armed groups to carry out suicide attacks,” the UN says.

The most damning evidence is cited by the UN child rights monitoring team in Afghanistan which claims to possess “documented and verified cases of Afghan children recruited and trained in Pakistan by armed groups, including the Taliban.”

Such exploitation of children from both countries inside Pakistan will come as a disappointment to UN agencies after earlier reassurances given by Pakistan authorities.

In his corresponding report published a year ago, the Secretary-General referred to Pakistan’s formal submission to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.… Read the rest