Private jails

The fact that laws barring bonded labour in any form are still not enforced in Pakistan is highly disturbing.

Editorial July 21, 2014

The degree of cruelty man is capable of inflicting on other humans is well documented throughout history. But some of the incidents that take place can still shock us, as we realise the nature of the kind of society we live in and quite how brutal it can be. The latest revelations on this count come from a private jail in Hafizabad, from where the Punjab police rescued some 100 people, including men, women and children, who had for years been held in the most miserable conditions and made to work at the brick kiln and on the lands of the owner without wages and without food. Some who had tried to escape had been killed; others tortured.

The police raid came on the report of a 16-year-old boy, Irfan, who had been able to escape. Three arrests have been made and Punjab’s Chief Minister, Shahbaz Sharif, has sought a full report. We must hope that these actions will result in punishment under the law for those running the jail. It is understood that in the past, they had been able to escape due to their influence and connivance of the police. The police have, of course, repeatedly been identified as the most corrupt and most feared of departments.

Laws barring bonded labour in any form have existed on our statute books for decades. The fact that they are still not enforced is highly disturbing. The extent of human distress uncovered in Hafizabad is appalling. And we can be sure that this is not the only private jail operating in our country. Others exist and will continue to do so until we as a society take more proactive action to end atrocities of this kind and rescue hapless people from slavery. The fact that it took so long to do so in the case discovered now does not reflect very well on our humanity or the basic ability of our state to protect those of its citizens in greatest need of its assistance against powerful oppressors, who are able to flaunt the laws of morality as well as those of the land.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 22nd, 2014.

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