FIVE Christian families have been freed from bonded labour in
Pakistan's notorious brick kilns, a charity has reported.
Millions of people, many of them children, are being forced to
work in unsafe conditions in the kilns. Many have been forced into
a cycle of debt that they can never pay off, and, when they die,
this debt is transferred to their families and children.
The Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS),
which works for religious freedom in Pakistan and supports
Christians who are persecuted for their faith, presented petitions
to the High Court in Lahore on behalf of the families, who were
being detained illegally by brick-kiln owners. The High Court then
ordered bailiffs to find and deliver the families.
CLAAS reported that one of the families had been in bonded
labour for more than 25 years. One of the women, Safia Bibi,
started work at the brick kiln of Gul Nawaz Cheema, with her
husband, Anwar Masih, soon after her marriage. She gave birth to
nine children while working there. When the children grew up, they
were also made to work, often without wages, and sometimes they
would go for days without food.
In 2013, when Mr Masih died after an illness, his children were
not allowed to attend his funeral, and were forced to work on the
day. The kiln-owner also prevented their attending prayer meetings
and celebrating Christmas and other Christian festivals.
The UK director of CLAAS, Nasir Saeed, said that slavery was
still rife in Pakistan: "Although it is illegal to take employees
into bonded labour, brick-kiln owners are rich and influential, and
therefore they are hardly questioned and brought to the justice.
Even if they are raided, they get away with offering bribes and
drawing on their local influence.
"I have personally visited and interviewed bonded labourers, and
they work for very low wages from dawn to dusk, but still remain in
debt for generations. They live in unhygienic mud houses without
any modern facilities.
"Most of the money they earn goes towards paying their existing
debt. As [the] kiln-owner charges them heavy interest, therefore
their debts are never paid, and they run to the next