We've all learned about the courageous acts of former slaves in American history like Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman--but while the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 officially put an end to slavery in the United States, human trafficking is still at critical mass and rising in many parts of the world, with more than 27 million people enslaved today. The modern-day human trafficking trade needs new heroes to speak up for themselves to put an end to the abuse and exploitation. Here are five inspiring former slaves who've stepped up to the challenge.
Iqbal Masih was sold into bonded labor at a carpet factory in his native Pakistan at the age of four. For six years, he was forced to work 12-hour days in a dark room, tied in place to the carpet loom he worked on. He was never permitted to go outside, and was fed so little that he looked like a boy half his age.
At ten, he ran away from the carpet factory to hear a speech by the Bonded Labor Liberation Front (BLLF), and realized that he was entitled to the same rights as any other citizen. He refused to return to the factory, and began to travel the world, visiting rallies, meetings, and even elementary school classrooms, to tell the story of the abuses he had suffered as a child slave, imploring others to help fight for an end to human trafficking.
Iqbal was honored with many awards for his bravery, but tragically, he was assassinated at the age of 12. His murderer was never found, but many believe that it was a member of the "Carpet Mafia," attempting to silence his criticism of the industry. Iqbal's short life served as an inspiration to many--including a young boy named Craig Kielberger, who was inspired to start a nonprofit organization called Free the Children to help free child laborers in honor of the brave young boy who'd lost his life.