Extracting forced labour from workers

UNFORTUNATELY, ours perhaps is the only country in this modern era where forced or bonded labour still exists in complete disregard of the Constitution. Lahore High Court’s Tuesday judgment ordering the release of forty five kiln workers including women and children who were recovered from a Daska kiln once again reminds us the plight of hundreds of thousands of browbeaten bonded labourers who because of their extreme poverty never get themselves free from the evil clutches of this modern day slavery.
Though bonded labour has been outlawed in the country in line with the UN conventions on human rights but regrettably according to the 2014 Global Slavery Index, 2,058,200 people are enslaved in Pakistan. This is prevalent in various sectors of the economy most notably brick kilns, agriculture, carpet weaving and probably many others. Geographically speaking, the most widespread bonded labour is found in the southern parts of the Provinces of Sindh and Punjab; nevertheless, anecdotal evidence suggests that it has its tentacles in all the Federating units. Recently, the Punjab government claimed to have taken steps towards eradicating this menace and also issued Punjab Prohibition of Child Labour at Brick Kilns Ordinance 2016 but the recovery of bonded labourers from Daska kiln manifest that nothing practical is being done on the part of authorities concerned to address the issues that lie at the root of this problem. Desperately poor families are entangled in the vicious cycle of bonded labour when the feudal employers trick them into taking a loan. Subsequently all the family members including children, are forced to work for long hours for little or no pay often for seven days a week in order to repay the debt which in most of the cases never decreases and simply passes from one generation to the next. Intimidation and violence including chaining the family members are used to prevent people escaping this form of slavery. Those holding workers in servitude are hardly prosecuted or punished. Moreover, workers who contest their exploitation are invariably confronted with police harassment, often leading to imprisonment under false charges. This is something that is unheard of in any civilized society. We, therefore, will urge the Federal and Provincial govs to implement the relevant laws and take practical steps towards freeing the society once and for all from this curse.

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