Child labour is a crime against humanity. I’m reminded of a very moving story about one of the world’s greatest humanitarians, Abraham Lincoln. As a candidate for a congress seat, the day this incident took place, he had an important election speech to deliver. But he also had a far greater task to perform. A noble cause to fight for.
Lincoln cancelled his election speech and entered ajam-packed court, which was already in session. Without being noticed, he sat down in the last row. As the case ended, the District Attorney rose and moved the trial of John Wilson for murder. There was a stir through the courtroom. In the doorway appeared the sheriff, leading a childish figure, a boy aged ten, dressed in poor homemade clothes. He was pale and dreadfully frightened. The judge faced the criminal, paused pityingly, and steadied himself. “Have you a lawyer?” He asked. The boy shook his unkempt yellow head. “No, I don’t know anybody. I ain’t got money to pay.”
The boy was in tears, while his widowed mother was sobbing near him. “Do you wish the court to assign you a counsel?” In the stillness a boot scraped the floor. The man in the back seat rose, “May it please your honour” he said. “I am a lawyer. I should be glad to act as a Counsel for the Defense.” The Judge looked for a moment at the loose-hung, towering figure. “What is your name?” He asked. The man answered quietly “Abraham Lincoln.” Lincoln, who gave his life to abolish slavery, had come that day to re-pay a debt.
Years back, when Lincoln was a struggling non-entity, the family of this then, well-to-do, little boy (who was just a baby at that time), had given himsolace and support. Subsequently, the boy’s father died and the family was left in a miserable state of abject poverty. The boy, John, had to work due to force of circumstances, in a farm of one heartless man who was Shaughnessy by name. He was a cruel tormentor. One day, he started beating the boy so mercilessly that the desperate defenseless boy struck his tormentor’s head with a pitchfork. The man died after some time and the boy was charged for murder.
It was believed that the boy was doomed. However,in the courtroom that day was
no ordinary man. It was the great Lincoln, the unique humanist. Possibly jeopardizing his future career by canceling his election speech, he had come to the boy’s rescue- a cause he deemed greater than his own success.
“Gentlemen of the jury,” began Abraham Lincoln. I am going to present this case in a manner not customary in courts. I shall not call witnesses; the little prisoner over there is all the witness I need. I shall not argue. You know that at an age when this boy’s hands should have held schoolbooks or a fishing rod, they held the man’s tool- the very toolthat caused his undoing. A grown man goaded the child, till in desperation he used the tool at hand. All I ask, is that you deal with the little fellow, as you would have other men deal in such a case with little fellows of your own at home.”
Before the verdict, for a second, perhaps, no one breathed in that packed mass. ‘Not guilty’ was the verdict. It was a momentous victory for a great cause. The cause of tormented and exploited ‘Johns’ of America.
My story is inspired by the one mentioned above. It is about the ‘Asims’ of Pakistan. Familiar, not so lucky figures at some cold and callous concrete houses.
The mother of one such Asim was a widow whowashed dishes and clothes for her ‘begum sahiba.’She had requested for her son to be employed at the same house after his former workplace, a mechanic workshop, had shut down due to lack of funds.
Soon after Asim was hired by his employers, Amina and Aslam, he started working hard at the difficultjobs he was assigned: cleaning bathrooms, sweeping floors outdoors in the harsh summer sun of Karachi etc. He was fed leftovers and was given old clothes to wear- clothes that often tore during the tedious tasks he was asked to perform. However, because poor Asim had not experienced anyluxuries in life, he could not tell that he was being treated heartlessly.
Amina was a frustrated woman. Aslam had two wives and she hated sharing him with his other wife. Maybe this was the reason for her being so cruel.
One ill-fated day, Amina entered the house and heard a noise in the kitchen. A glass had slipped from Asim’s hands and was in splinters.
In a state of complete rage, she ignited a matchstick and placed it on Asim’s hands. Singed he ran out, followed by Amina. Luckily, for him, she was unable to move as fast as him.
When Asim told his mother what had happened to him, she was in shock as she couldn’t believe Amina could do such a dreadful thing. She was determined to amend the wrong done to her son.
She went to Amina’s house, but Amina completely denied that she had been cruel. She knew Amina was scared of being blamed publicly, so she asked her to compensate him for her ill-doings, or she would go to the police.
Amina was asked to pay a handsome amount to Asim for a lifetime in lieu of her attempt to burn Asim’s hand. Asim’s mother won the money with which he joined school. Today, he is committed to study hard and one day, be successful enough to look after his mother.