Court frees 38 bonded labours in Hyderabad

Express May 08, 2010

HYDERABAD: A sessions court in Hyderabad has freed 38 bonded men, women and children from the Hala area on Friday.

A resident of Hala, Khair Muhammad Meshwari had filed a petition with the second additional and sessions judge complaining that 38 of his relatives were being held captive at a brick kiln. He alleged that they were being made to work in inhuman conditions.Police conducted a raid at the brick kiln on the court’s orders and freed the people. The court, after recording their statements, allowed them to live a free life.

According to the Bureau of International Labour Affairs (ILAB) of the US Department of Labour, in Pakistan bonded labour has long been a feature in brick kilns, carpet industries, agriculture, fisheries, stone/ brick crushing, shoe-making, power looms, and refuse sorting. The Bonded Labour Liberation Front, a local NGO, estimates that eight million children are bonded in Pakistan – half a million of them in the carpet industry alone. Some of these children reportedly come from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Burma.

The bonded labour system consists of giving advances of peshgi (bonded money) to a person. As long as all or part of the peshgi debt remains outstanding, the debtor/worker is bound to the creditor/employer. In case of sickness or death, the family of the individual is responsible for the debt, which often passes down from generation to generation. In the case of children, the peshgi is paid to a parent or guardian, who then provides the child to work off the debt.

“In September 1988, Pakistan’s Supreme Court, in a well-publicised case against brick kiln owners, legally abolished the peshgi system. This Supreme Court decision, however, stopped short of forgiving past debts. The Bonded Labour (Abolition) Act of 1992 abolished and made bonded labour illegal in Pakistan, and cancelled all obligations of bonded labourers to their employers,” the ILAB states on its website. (ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY HASSAN CHOUDHARY)