Free legal aid and crop insurance needed to end bonded labour

Express July 31, 2010

KARACHI: A formal code of conduct between labourer and employer, crop insurance to protect the rights of farmers, and free legal aid services and Zakat for victims of bonded labour. These suggestions were made at the bonded labour stakeholders conference organised by the US consulate on Saturday.

Speakers stressed the need for coordination among different stakeholders to combat bonded labour in the country. They said the trust deficit between governmental and non-governmental organisations add to bonded labour problems.

The speakers included representatives from the judiciary, the police, Sindh’s social welfare department, the provincial home department, ‘haris’ and landowners took part in the day-long deliberations.

US consul general in Karachi William Martin said the main objective of the conference was to bring people of different classes together to find a resolution to end the practice of bonded labour.

According to him, in the US, bonded labour existed in farms and coal mines. “It took many years before this labour system could be changed and we still strive to protect farm workers and other labourers,” he said. He extended the US’s full cooperation to improve the lives of bonded labourers and their working relationships with their employers.

Representatives of the Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (Sparc) informed the participants about the NGO’s initiatives such as the establishment of an anti-bonded labour cell in Mirpurkhas.

SPARC’s Iqbal Detho said that bonded labour, also called ‘debt bondage’, has been defined as a form of slavery and forced labour by various conventions. He said that heads of households, mainly men, are forced into taking loans from employers and are then compelled to pay back the debt at high interest rates. “When they fail to repay the loan, the entire family including the children are held in bondage, often for a generation,” he explained. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has termed this the worst form of child labour, said Detho.

Meanwhile, Centre for the Improvement of Working Conditions director Saeed Awan pointed out that bonded labour prevailed in agriculture, brick kilns, the carpet industry, domestic help and beggary.

He said that poverty, illiteracy and feudalism are the root causes of bonded labour, while lower social statuses, castes and religion, also make labourers vulnerable.

Wasim Kamran and Abul Wadood from the NGO Seher spoke about bonded labour in fisheries, mining and agriculture sectors in Balochistan.

Participants concluded that bonded labour is a national concern and coercion is a core violation of human rights.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 1st, 2010.


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