Freedom from slavery
“The trees of the forest will sing for joy before the Lord…” 1 Chronicles 16.33
Bonded labour in Pakistan:
When poor people in Pakistan find themselves faced with a crisis, such as illness or infirmity, they do not have the access to welfare that people in Western countries take for granted. Instead, they often feel they have little choice but to turn to a feudal employer for a loan. Lacking currency or goods, they effectively hand their lives over to the employer in order to repay the loan in labour.
In Pakistan, the majority of bonded labourers work in the brick kiln industry where they face grim conditions, long hours and extreme poverty. It is not uncommon for whole families and children to be in bonded labour – or debt bondage as it is also known - and the debt is often passed down to the next generation until the loan is paid off.
The living conditions of bonded labourers are terrible. Kiln workers live in basic housing with no sanitation or wash facilities, and physical and sexual violence are commonplace. Kiln workers are paid per brick and will therefore work long hours, at least 11 to 12 hours a day. The typical family makes around 2,500 bricks a day and yet earns just 2,500 rupees a month – around £20 – with half of their wages going to the factory owner as payment for the loan. If the kiln workers are unable to work, as a result of ill-health or old age, for example, they will simply not be paid.
A bonded labourer is effectively a slave to his employer, unable to leave the kiln until he has re-paid all his debts to the owner, whilst factory owners are able to sell their labourer and his debt at any time to a new master. Day-to-day, labourers are not allowed to move off the factory premises unless they have the express permission of the owners and offer their remaining family members as security for their return.
According to statistics, around 75 per cent of Pakistanis in bonded labour are children, with many already starting before they have even reached school age.
Some families sell their children out of desperation to an employer for as little as a few pounds. In most cases, they cannot raise enough money to buy their children back as employers often set the levels of repayment and interest so high that paying off the loan becomes virtually impossible.
Baba Sulakhan told CLAAS that he started working as a bonded labourer when he was just 12. Now age 74, he is still working on the kiln with his wife and two sons, as well as three grandchildren aged four, five and seven who are forced to work at the kiln at the expense of going to school.
Bonded labour and the law:
Pakistan’s Supreme Court declared bonded labour to be unconstitutional in 1989 and yet there are believed to be at least 1.8 million people in bonded labour in Pakistan today. The real figure could sadly be much higher as employers tend only to register men as employees, and not women and children, whom they regard simply as “helpers”.
The Pakistani government continues to turn a blind eye to the plight of bonded labourers and makes little effort to implement the international conventions it has signed up to - bonded labour violates Article 4 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Labour Organisation’s Convention No. 29 on forced labour. Moreover, the Pakistani government remains unwilling to punish those employers who enslave men, women and children in debt bondage.
What is CLAAS doing to help bonded labourers?
The Bonded Labourers Project aims to secure the freedom of all enslaved bonded labourers by providing free legal and financial aid, medical facilities, and vocational training in trades like fish farming or poultry keeping.
Women and children in particular will benefit from free medical advice and medicine, as well as hospital transfers where necessary, at the CLAAS mobile health dispensary.
The project will also help bonded labourers find sustainable incomes once freed through micro-credit and other income generating schemes that will help them start up their own small businesses.
On the legal level, CLAAS has filed numerous legal petitions to secure the freedom of enslaved labourers. In total, 423 people have been set free by the high courts thanks to the work of CLAAS.
There are many ways you can help free Pakistani minority communities from a life of slavery.
We are excited to be developing educational programmes for the children of bonded labourers as well as vocational training for minority women in Pakistan.
Help us run these programmes by volunteering your time and skills.
Be a blessing and demonstrate your solidarity with the people of Pakistan in a very practical way by sponsoring a child or even a whole family in bonded labour. As a small token of appreciation for your contribution, you will receive a beautiful framed photograph of the family or child you are sponsoring.
HOW TO PARTICIPATE
|We accept online donations towards the sponsorship programme but if you would like to send a cheque or require further details, then please contact our main office on (44) 020 8867 9180 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org