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Bonded labour: Reforms on anvil in Pakistan?

Jun 11, 2014

Parliamentarians, civil society and the social activists together join in a policy making dialogue to provide relief to bonded labourers in Pakistan.

New Delhi/Karachi: The discourse on bonded labour in Pakistan, limited to human right activists and the civil society received an impetus with the participation of law makers to fight against the brutal practice.

A dialogue on the issue of bonded labour, held during May end in Karachi, saw parliamentarians, social activists and the law enforcers come together to discuss the issue.

Provincial law maker, Sharmila Farooqui, highlights the need for generating awareness regarding the condemned issue of child slavery. She brought into focus the alarming levels of bondage in the agriculture sector and the need for strict legal reforms.

According to the Asian Development Bank, Pakistan has around 1.8 million bonded labours, but the combined force of the civil society and social activists claim that these figures mask the actual picture, with the real numbers being much higher.

The Bonded Labour Abolition Act-1992 was passed with the agenda to free men, women and children from bondage and rehabilitate them into a secure environment and ensure their livelihood.

However, due to entrenched poverty and the feudalistic mindset of the society, slavery still persists in the country with the provisions of the labour act being far from being implemented.

The May-policy-dialogue concluded on the note that there was a need to amend the law through a bill to be presented in the parliament and implement it immediately.

Debt bondage is a significant problem, particularly in the Sindh and Punjab provinces,” according to ‘Walk Free’, a global coalition to end slave labour practices across the world. ‘Walk Free’s report on Pakistan also drew attention to the plight of 1.6 million Afghan refugees part of Pakistan’s informal economy.

In Pakistan, various industries thrive on low paid bonded labour, which exploits not only vulnerable children but traditional ‘low-caste’ family labourers, mainly from the Hindu religious minority in the country.

Pakistan’s brick making industry, consisting of some 5,000 brick kilns, has a particularly high level of bonded labourers, exploiting not only vulnerable children, but also traditional ‘low-caste’ family labourers, mainly from the Hindu religious minority in the country.

“Bonded labour affects men, women and children especially from rural areas who travel to cities to find work, and has been reported in many industries, primarily brick kilns, but also in agriculture, fisheries and mining,” says ‘Walk Free’.

The issue of bonded labour in Pakistan has been brushed under the carpet for several years forcing people to live in a vicious circle of poverty, exploitation and social stigma.

The cry of the bonded has often gone unheard, dominated by the political muscle and denied of their basic human rights. However, with an increasing awareness and sensitisation towards the issue, policy makers are trying to make an effort to change the present scenario.

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