School for Enslaved Children in Pakistan Named After Boy Martyr Who Rescued Thousands From Bonded Labor

School in Pakistan
A girl attends a class at a makeshift school on the outskirts of Islamabad, Pakistan, April 7, 2014. |

A London-based human rights charity will open a free primary school in a poverty-stricken area of Pakistan that aims to give Christian children an education, an alternative to working as bonded laborers and a chance to break free from their family's cycle of poverty.

The British Pakistani Christian Association announced earlier this week that it has purchased land in the town of Kasur, just outside the city of Lahore, and will build the free school to be named after 12-year-old childhood martyr Tim Iqbal Masih, who was shot and killed in 1995 after helping to free thousands of children from bonded labor.

BPCA has provided extensive human aid to Christians and others in Kasur after several Christian families' mud homes were badly damaged by severe flooding last year. But as BPCA provided things like free medical examinations and treatments, the organization noticed a pressing need for a free educational outlet for the children.

Many families told BPCA that brick kiln operators in the region do not force children to begin work as laborers until they reach the age of 13. However, a family's inability to pay for child care and schooling fees forces them to opt their children into child labor at earlier ages.

"Our work with these communities brought to our attention the need for an educational facility that could provide an escape for many children forced by circumstance to work with their parents, a statement from BPCA states. "Our school will be free of charge and aims to lift families out of poverty by educating their next generation."

Tim Iqbal Masih
Tim Iqbal Masih. |

According to BPCA, many families in bonded labor have already committed to sending their children to the school. About 85 percent of people in bonded labor are Christians.

"Our school will only cater for primary aged learning but will seek to link capable students to higher education establishments. Our hope is over time to develop a secondary school in the vicinity of our initial project," the statement reads.

As the location of the school will be near where a married Christian couple was burned alive in a brick kiln by a radical Muslim mob after being accused of blasphemy in November 2014, the couple's family has agreed to formally open the school once construction is complete.

"BPCA hopes that this school will be a trigger for further similar establishments that will develop new futures for the most deprived and abused communities eking out an existence in Pakistan," the statement explains. "Tim Iqbal Masih once said: 'Children should have pens in their hands not tools.'"

The school was named after Masih, because he represents the goals that BPCA is trying to accomplish with the school.

Masih was just 4 years old when he was forced into bonded labor after his mother couldn't pay off a loan she took out to pay for her older son's wedding. Masih worked 14 hour days for six days a week, but was never even close to paying off his mother's loan.

According to BPCA, he escaped at the age of 10 with friends and went to the police with plenty of evidence that they were abused and beaten. The police, however, returned Masih and his friends to the master for payment.

Masih was later helped out by an NGO and received a four-year education in two years. Masih began speaking out against abuses and injustice of bonded labor and went to factories to encourage other children to leave because new laws banned bonded labor and other forms of modern-day slavery.

Masih also spoke out against bonded labor in other countries throughout the world. He even gave a speech to the United Nations General Assembly when he was just 12 years old. He was shot and killed just weeks before he was to begin studying for a law degree at Brandeis University in Boston in 1995.

"We chose to name our school after Tim Iqbal Masih as his short life has been an inspiration to our group. His commitment to save others and in so doing sacrificing his own life is a message to us all," BPCA Chairman Wilson Chowdhry said in a statement. "Freedom from oppressors will always come at a cost and so often martyrs are forgotten. We wanted his desire to emancipate other victims to be be remembered, that it might cement a place for acceptance of the beleaguered Christian minority in Pakistan and inspire generations of humanitarians yet to come."

Follow Samuel Smith on Twitter: @IamSamSmith

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