Middle School Play Raises Awareness of Child Labor

The Middle School’s fall play Iqbal, staged in the Black Box Theater on November 4 and 5, dramatized a social injustice that resonated for the young cast and crew: child labor.

Iqbal is based on the true story of a contemporary victim of child slavery in Pakistan, Iqbal Masih. At the age of four, Iqbal was sold into slavery and forced to work in a carpet factory for six years until he escaped into the protection of the Bonded Labor Liberation Front, an advocacy group fighting against child labor. Iqbal became an international champion of human rights and a martyr after he was murdered in 1995, at age twelve, likely as retribution for speaking out against his captors. Child labor was and is illegal in Pakistan (as it is in most of the other countries where it still persists), but the laws are inconsistently enforced.

Director Kelly Lopez and assistant director Michelle Langwieder worked with upper school history teacher Kit Beaudouin ’72 and the Hiatt Center for Social Justice Education to make Iqbal an opportunity for authentic student-to-student learning. Ms. Beaudouin’s upper school history elective, Social Change, examines the political and economic systems that perpetuate child labor. The interdisciplinary and cross-divisional collaboration gave upper and middle school students the chance to discuss common themes and to learn from each other. The two groups also used Robin Neal and Sarah Akhtar’s Modern Slavery Project in 10th grade English as a resource and an inspiration. The week before Iqbal opened, the groups gave a joint presentation at an all-school assembly.

The play’s printed program asked the audience to reflect on the social justice issues that the cast and crew had discussed among themselves and with Ms. Beaudouin’s class:

– What are my personal consumption patterns?
– Would I pay more for a product if I knew it was made without slave labor?

Along with a list of human rights groups that advocate against child and illegal labor, the program also included some sobering statistics on the continuing prevalence of child labor today:

– 27 million children worldwide are involved in child labor.
– About 30% of children in the least developed countries are involved.
– 126 million children work in hazardous conditions.

Following each performance, the cast and crew discussed what they had learned about child labor with the audience. Having portrayed children held in slavery on stage, several of the young actors said that they would no longer buy brands and products made by other children. Others said they now realized that even a loving family might be forced by economic necessity to send a child to work instead of school. Some said they had been surprised to learn that there are still instances of child labor in America.

One cast member said, “Until this play, I didn’t realize that what gives me pleasure may have been made by a child and caused someone else pain.”

Another said, “I didn’t know I played a part in it.”

During intermission of the evening show, two upper school students, Nicole Penn ’11 and Jake Carroll ’12, sold South Asian food generously provided by parents of the cast and crew. They raised $200 to donate to Goodweave, a nonprofit that works to eradicate illegal labor in the carpet industry.

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