.- In a recent pastoral letter, the Coadjutor Archbishop of Sevilla and the Apostolic Administrator of Cordoba, Juan Jose Ansenjo Pelegrina, called for “the eradication of child slavery” and said April 16 “should be declared the International Day Against Child Slavery throughout the world” in memory of the Pakistani boy Iqbal Masih, who was killed in 1995.
The archbishop reminded the faithful that children in slavery “need our compassion, solidarity and commitment in order to bring about their liberation.”
“The Church has always been mother and teacher at the service of the poor and the forgotten, especially children,” he said. “Pope Benedict XVI,” he continued, “has reminded us of our baptismal commitment to serve the least of the earth, who bear in their faces the sufferings of the Crucified one, and among whom the 400 million child slaves occupy an important place.”
The archbishop recalled the Pakistani boy Iqbal Masih who was killed on April 16, 1995, for fighting against child slavery, and he called on the faithful “to pray and work” for “the eradication of this social scourge.”
The anniversary of Iqbal’s death, he said, should “be declared throughout the world as the International Day Against Child Slavery.”
Iqbal Masih was born in 1982 in Pakistan. At the age of four his father sold him as a slave to a carpet factory for 600 rupees—roughly 12 dollars—to pay for the wedding of his eldest son. From that moment, Iqbal was forced to work 12-hour days chained to a gridiron and subjected to constant beatings.
At the age of 10 he managed to escape from the factory, but the inhumane conditions in which he had been living had ravaged his body. At the age of 12 he had the height and weight of a 6 year-old.
After his escape, with the help of some brick-layer unions, he spent his time denouncing the abuse of Pakistani children. He became known internationally and visited Sweden and the United States, becoming a child leader.
On April 16, 1995, Iqbal, a Catholic child in a majority Muslim country, attended Palm Sunday Mass. That afternoon he went for a ride on his bicycle in his hometown near Lahore. He was shot to death by the carpet manufacturer mafia, which has been accused of the crime.
On the day of his death, Iqbal was carrying a Bible and a book on Easter in his knapsack, with a picture of Jesus. This Pakistani boy is considered the symbol of the fight against child exploitation.