Children of a lesser god?: Eleven freed from chains of bonded labour

Published: August 20, 2011
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BOUND: 1.7m is the lower estimate of the number of people in Pakistan
living in bonded labour

BOUND: 1.7m is the lower estimate of the number of people in Pakistan living in bonded labour

ISLAMABAD: 

The city police on Friday freed 11 members of a family including four children and two women from a brick kiln in Sodran, Tarlai in the outskirts of the city. The family were being held as bonded labourers.

Acting on orders from the Supreme Court, a team of Koral police headed by City Superintendent of Police (SP) Captain (retd) Muhammad Illyas, raided the kiln on Friday after gathering information on hidden rooms where the family had been locked up by the kiln’s management.

“Labourers there were so terrified that they were initially unwilling to share any information about the captives,” said SP Illyas.

Police confiscated the records of the management and seized two guns from the possession of the kiln supervisor Muhammad Javed, while also taking him into custody.

The family of 11 people fell into the shackles of bonded labour due to exploitative money lending. They were lent Rs50,000 some six years ago which they were unable to return. The amount quickly rose to Rs250,000 as the family was unable to pay the debt and interest while making ends meet.

“This was their modus operandi. They used to lend money to people and then never paid them their dues for the labour they did. The labourers were only paid Rs300 per week,” said the SP.

He added that there were more than 500 people working at the kiln. They were being harassed and kept in illegal confinement by the kiln management. The recent raid by the police had encouraged many of them to try and escape from the kiln.

Inspector General of Police (IGP) Bani Amin was instructed by the Supreme Court, which had taken a suo moto notice of the illegal confinement of the family, to free the family and produce them before the court in three days.

The recovered people have been identified as Sakeena Bibi, Farzana Bibi, Aamir Ali, Ali Ahmed, Qasim Ali, Naseer Ahmed and Tanveer Ahmed and their children. The head of the family, Nazeer Ahmed, was also released by kiln owner Fazal Chaudhry after he was pressurised by the police.

Ahmed had been kept separately from the rest of the family at an unknown place. Police said the management had deployed armed guards at the kiln so that no labourers could escape. The supervisor and the guards, arrested by the police, will be produced before the Supreme Court, along with the recovered family, police said.

At least 1.7 million people in Pakistan live in bonded labour, mostly working as brick kiln workers, while thousands of others work in conditions defined by the International Labour organisation as forced labour in industries such as farming, prostitution, and domestic work.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 20th, 2011.

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