Oscar-winning Pakistani director Sharmeen Obaid has directed a new short film about child labour that offers a rare glimmer of hope. The animated film Iqbal Masih Ka Bachpan traces the efforts of the real-life titular character and child’s rights activist to resist a life spent weaving carpets. Iqbal Masih, a bonded labourer from Muridke in Pakistan, wants to study, but his impoverished and debt-ridden father is unable to send him to school.

Iqbal works for six years at a carpet weaving unit. Encouraged by a government order against child labour, the boy decides to change his life. Why should we be condemned to touch or smell only the flowers that we weave into carpets, Iqbal wonders.

Iqbal Masih became a symbol of empowerment across the world, receiving the Reebok Human Rights Award in 1994, and inspiring the Iqbal Masih Award for the Elimination of Child Labor awarded by the United States Congress in 2009.

It ended terribly for Masih in 1995. “The two-minute film stops short of disclosing Iqbal’s unfortunate fate,” the Pakistani daily Dawn noted. “After he reportedly toured the world where he raised awareness about the plight of bonded labourers, Iqbal was fatally shot at the age of 12 during a visit to his hometown.”

Iqbal Masih Ka Bachpan (2019).

Iqbal Masih Ka Bachpan has been produced by SOC Films, and is the second in a series titled Shattering Silence. The project, comprising four films, is “aimed at creating meaningful dialogue around issues of child abuse”, a press note said. All the Urdu-language films have been directed by Sharmeen Obaid, who won Oscars for her short documentaries Saving Face, about acid attack victims in Pakistan, and A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness, about honour killings.

The first film in the Shattering Silence series is Cheena Hua Bachpan.

Cheena Hua Bachpan.