The way one child speaks to another is sometimes just play, and sometimes small miracles happen.
When Iqbal Masih of Pakistan spoke to students at Quincy's Broad Meadows School last December, he touched their hearts and their minds. His mission was to tell them about the horrors of child labor, something he had experienced from age 4 to 10.
He was chained to a carpet loom in a factory along with other children, who were forced to work 16 hours a day with little pay or food. They were beaten and tortured. At age 12, Masih was the size of a 6-year-old, because of malnourishment.
Now he is dead. The chairman of an anti-child bondage group in Pakistan said Masih was killed last Sunday, probably by the carpet mafia because of his actions to end child enslavement.
It is hard for ordinary American children to comprehend the lives of youngsters in poor, developing countries where children traditionally have been valued mainly for their labor. In the carpet industry, they are preferred workers because of their small fingers. The Quincy children understood, however, because Masih made the plight of children like him real to them. In a few short months the youngsters have sent out almost 700 letters to government leaders, demanding an end to child enslavement. And -they contacted carpet dealers close to home to urge them not to sell goods from countries that tolerate child labor.
Karen Marin, 14, of Broad Meadows is both sad and mad over Iqbal's death. But she and fellow students intend to continue their efforts in his memory. There are an estimated 7.5 million bonded child laborers in Pakistan alone. Cheap, exploited child labor is one reason so many goods imported from developing countries are dirt cheap.
In his short life, Masih organized 2,000 Pakistani children into an antichild
labor movement. For that he received a Reebok Human Rights Award, which brought
him to America and to Quincy. He had a small frame but he cast a long shadow.