Remembering Iqbal Masih and 400 million more

International Day Against Child Slavery

Not many people will have heard of Iqbal Masih.   Iqbal Masih was a Pakistani boy sold into slavery at the age of 4 and made to squat for hours on end weaving carpets.  When he was 10 years old he was freed by an organisation called the Bonded Labour Liberation Front.  Two years later on the 16th April he was shot dead along with 2 of his cousins who were wounded. The killers have not been caught but it is thought they are part of the "carpet mafia" whose business Iqbal threatened through his exposure of the use of child labour.

Iqbal Masih represents the millions of children still sold into slavery in the 21st Century for commercial  and domestic labour and for sex.   The figures are staggering.  In Pakistan alone there are 7.5 million children in bonded labour.  There are 150 million street children across the world; 400 million children  worldwide dying in slavery.  The children are either kidnapped, taken from the streets or bought by traffickers who win the trust of families living in extreme poverty, promising to look after the children, feed, cloth and educate them.  The parents, themselves vulnerable due to poverty, believe the children will benefit and in return be able to help support the family in the future. 

In Nigeria children are bought and used as domestic servants from as young an age as 4.  They are used as quarry workers in the South West of the country.  Children are bought and sold between countries so Togolese children work in Nigeria, Nigerian children in Ghana, Ghanaian children in Ivory Coast and so on.

In Nigeria  120 boys and then later another 116 all from Benin were
rescued from labour camps in the South Western states of Oyo, Osun and
Ogun.  The boys some as young as 4 years old were found working in
granite quarries, sleeping out in the open and malnourished.  Young
boys from Togo were recruited to work as agricultural workers in
Nigeria in return for their school fees.   The boys ended up working 13
hours a day and were beaten if they complained or did not work hard
enough.  After 1 to 2 years they were given bicycles and told to peddle
home.  Many never made it whilst others were robbed.

According to a number of news reports, Nigeria,  where it is estimated there are 15 million working children,  is proposing a policy on child labour.

According to the draft policy, it is
aimed at providing "relevant beacons" for all stakeholders who
are committed to eliminate child labour in Nigeria……The policy will target children, parents, relevant government
ministries and agencies, employers, trade unions, the
media, NGOs, professional associations and social workers, among

However domestic labour and occupational activities will not be covered by the policy so I am assuming that they are not covered by the law. I would appreciate clarification on this from anyone who has the facts on the law.

It (the draft policy) explains that child labour should be distinguished from child work which consists of mild involvement of children in household and occupational activities carried out in safe conditions and environments and constitutes a mechanism for socialising children necessary for their adjustment to social and economic millieu.


It is not clear what is meant by those involved in "occupational activities" as mining, quarrying etc are all occupational activities as is street hawking.   The words used to describe domestic labour and hawking as "mild involvement" is outrageous.   Children are made to work for up to 18 hours a day, 7 days a week.  The child hawkers spend their day walking the streets with their wares with no relief and instructions that they must sell x amount in a day.  All the children, domestic servants and hawkers are vulnerable and open to sexual and physical abuse by punters and employers or rather owners.   It is unacceptable that these two groups of children are therefore not to be included in this policy which makes a mockery of the whole idea.  The truth is that particularly in the case of domestic labour, the very lawmakers and policy makers are guilty of using and abusing children and they are not willing to give up their cheap source of daily labour in exchange for paying adults a living wage to do their washing, cooking, cleaning and nannying.  Better to feed off the poverty of rural families and help perpetuate that poverty by keeping those children in bondage and denying them education and health care so when they grow up they too do not have to sell their own children in the hope of a brighter future.  Once again the Nigerian government has shown its willingness to violate the basic human rights of its citizens, in this case  by failing to acknowledge the rights of all of it’s children.   Without laws to protect them domestic servants and street hawkers will continue to be vulenerable to sexual and physical abuse and be easy prey for the trafficikers.

Reuters Alert Net reports that the national coordinator for "Ivory Coast’s Child Labour Montorinig System Project" asked that "Chocolate makers and exporters fund a campaign to stamp out child labour on Cocoa farms". A pilot project  involving  6 villages  has shown that  children as young as 5 are used to carry heavy  loads whilst working in cocoa plantations.   The  multinationals  along with the government and Western consumers have to take responsbility for the abuse of children in this way.   Last year a suit by the International Labour Rights Fund was filed in the US against three multinationals, Nestle (more on Nestle’s other activities), Archer Daniels Mildand (a critique of ADM) and Cargill (Nourishing ideas, abusing children) for complicity in the "trafficking, torture and forced labour of children who cultivate cocoa in Ivory Coast."

And in Switzerland they fight over the rights to the golden "chocolate" bunny!

Some statistics on slavery in Africa:

Sold into slavery – 200,000

Kidnapped into child killers  –  120,000

Abused & Raped  – millions

Displaced in the wilderness of refugee camps  1, 000,000 +

Out of 53 countries surveyed:
·    89% had trafficking to and from neighbouring countries.
·    34% trafficking to Europe
·    26% trafficking to the Middle East
·    Children are the biggest victims — twice as likely as women to be trafficked.

Some global statistics:
  1,000 to 1,500 Guatemalan babies and children are trafficked each
year for adoption by couples in North America and Europe.
Girls as young as 13 (mainly from Asia and Eastern Europe) are
trafficked as “mail-order brides.”  In most cases these girls and women
are powerless and isolated and at great risk of violence.
·    27 million people a year are trafficked across borders each year
·    The trade in 21st century slavery is worth $17-$19 billion a year.

Links: ILOAnti-Slavery, Rights Nigeria – Trafficking,