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Lahore families freed from kiln slavery

23 May 2014

by a staff reporter


Widespread: a child works at a brick kiln near Lahore, in 2012

Widespread: a child works at a brick kiln near Lahore, in 2012

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 generation."

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