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Bonded Labour and Minorities in Pakistan

By HRFP and GHRD
Bonded labour is a modern form of slavery. A person is enslaved as a bonded
labourer due to debt bondage when his or her labour is acquired as a way of
paying certain loan. Quite often bonded labourers are subjected to physical
and sexual violence. They live under various forms of surveillance (at times
through armed guards). The ILO Supplementary Convention on the Abolition
of Slavery, the Slave Trade and Institutions and Practices Similar to Slavery
(1956) defines debt bondage as:
“the status or condition arising from a pledge by a debtor of his personal
services or those of a person under his control as security for a debt, if the
value of those services as reasonably assessed is not applied towards the
liquidation of the debt or the length and nature of those services are not
respectively limited and defined (ILO, 1956:1).
In South Asia, especially in Pakistan, bonded labour is widespread in
agriculture, brick kiln, home base textiles, domestic work, practices as
beggars (beggar is a traditional form of forced labour and some are forced to
do so because of poverty), carpet industries, mining, human trafficking and
tanning. According to the Constitution of Pakistan, debt bondage is prohibited
by the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act 1992. Pakistan has also ratified
ILO Convention 29 on bonded labour. A 2018 Global Slavery Index showed
that 3,186,000 (about 3.2 million) Pakistans were recorded as bonded
labourers. Pakistan ranks in the 8th position of the global slavery index.
Many of the bonded labour occupations are hazardous or unsafe. The bonded
labourers are often exposed to unhygienic circumstances due to which they
could suffer a lot of diseases. Mine labours, factory labours and brick kiln
labour cause air pollution, which makes that labourers breath in the bad
atmosphere and are more likely to suffer from critical lung diseases and many
other health issues. Also, brick kiln and agricultural labour have a heavy
physical nature and can cause permanent disability or even death.
Furthermore, in all bonded labour forms, verbal and physical abuse is
common. Additional to sexual harassment and abuse for women. All these
occupational hazards in bonded labour leads to a very heavy burden of
disease.
Bonded labour affects Pakistans minorities more severely. These socially
excluded groups, migrants and religious minorities experience a double

burden; by being subjected to bonded labour and as being a minority. This
combination makes a person vulnerable for exploitation on many fronts. In
addition, discrimination, social and political exclusion make the problem of
bonded labour even more complex. Especially, Christians, Hindus and some
other small religious groups in Pakistan are working in bonded labour. Also,
people who are already depressed and are not able to stand against their
ownersare more vulnerable to bonded labour.
The common pattern used to bond labours are by providing loans on higher
rates of interest to these vulnerable groups. In return they have to work for the
person from whom they have received the loan on an unconditional basis.
Because the workers receive a very low income,they will never able to return
back that amounts as loans they got. Sometimes, the loans also include
control over workers life-choices including marriage or education.So, the
workers get trapped in a cycle of unreplaceable debt and forced labour. They
have no choice than to keep working in the hazardous occupations, are not
allowed to leave and get treated badly if they resist to work or perform poorly.
Even currently, withthe instruction of law enforcement departments to stay at
homes due to risk of infection of Covid-19 (Corona Virus), these bonded
labours are still not allowed to go to their homes because most of their work
still continues on their ownersorders. When these bonded labourers ask about
their rights from the persons who have given them loans, they demand their
loan back.
The Government of Pakistan claims they are doing efforts to stop bonded
labour in their country. By adopting some legislations in the past, they have
tried to make a change. The Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act 1992 was
established to eliminate the slavery and forced labours. The governments
have been claiming that bonded labour was eliminated by means of this law,
but on the ground, the implementation was lacking. So, practically nothing has
changed in the lives of the minorities working in bonded labour.
Thus, it is crucial to help the Pakistani minorities subjected to bonded labour.
They can be helped in various ways; by paying their bondage money,
providing them human development skills, vocational training and by starting a
business for them and their families. Children of these labours can and should
be given education. To improve health status, medical assistance and a
balanced diet is needed.