Working to pay off their debts | Pakistan Today

Working to pay off their debts

I have been working as a bonded labourer at a brick-kiln since 2005, but no one tried to free me from the clutches of the cruel brick kiln owners and when my family and I tried to escape, they made us hostage,” says Sughra, a bonded labourer who came to the National Press Club the other day along with many other brick-kiln labourers whom families have been made hostage by brick kiln owners.
The aggrieved bonded labourers hailing from Pakpattan said they borrowed Rs 20,000 each from brick-kiln owners six years ago and since then; they have been working at brick kilns to get their loans waived off.
“When we tried to flee, brick kiln owners kidnapped our nine family members and implicated them in a false robbery case with the connivance of some police officials,” the said.
The family members who had been kidnapped are Muhammad Ramzan, Rizwan, Aslam, Muhammad Boota, Rafeeq, Haneefa, Asia, Parveen and Sakeena.
“Nobody helps us. I have six children who work along with us all day. We can’t have even a single meal properly. Brick-kiln workers have no money to make any savings. I appeal to the government to help us pay off our loans. We don’t even have time to pray since we are made to work as bonded labourers all day” another labourer, Shakeel Akhtar, said.
Concerned citizens have been raising their voices against bonded labour but the people at the helm remain apathetic despite the fact the Supreme Court abolished bonded labour two decades ago.
Regrettably, so cruel is the vicious cycle of borrowing from the brick-kiln owners and working for them as forced labour that brick-kiln labourers are unable to pay off their debts despite years of forced labour.
Under the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act of 1992, a bonded labourer is a person who enters into a contract to pay off a debt and works for nominal or no wages at all. Even though the act banned such labour 18 years ago, not much has been done to eradicate this modern form of slavery.
The Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research estimates that there are 11,000 brick kilns in Pakistan. Of these, 5,000 brick kilns are in Punjab alone, mostly about 90 per cent of them in rural areas.
Labourers have demanded the government take stern action against brick-kiln owners and secure the release of their families. They also urged the government to rid the families such as theirs of the shackles of slavery once and for all.



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