It is estimated that there are over 2 million people are living in conditions of modern slavery in Pakistan. Debt bondage constitutes the most prevalent form of slavery, being found in industries such as brick making, agriculture, carpet weaving and fishing. Brick-kilns are located on the outskirts of most major towns and cities in Pakistan and operate almost exclusively on the basis of debt bondage. Male heads of families receive advances which bond them and their entire families to owners of brick-kilns. Once bonded, the laborers are forced to live and work at the brick-kiln site. While all members of the family are expected to work, the minimal wages paid are given only to the male head of the family. The pay structure is such that basic necessities are not covered by the wages, forcing workers to take out further loans and increase their debt.
Mohammed and his family were searching for a source of income when they found work in a brick kiln. Though they did not take an advance, Mohammed was forced to take out a loan with the kiln owners in order to pay for expenses, leading him and his family to be trapped in debt bondage.
We were so happy at the time of releases as we thought it was an end of the dark time.
We have a large family and without a home of our own and any other source of income we were unable to live. They [the activists] just helped us to get released and then suddenly we were on our own feet. It was really a difficult period.
We decided to find work at a kiln. The owner is nice and we didn’t take any advance.
Just think how we can keep a family of eight with Rs. 300 (US $ 3.52) a day, We have no other option but to take a loan from the kiln owners for unexpected costs [such as weddings and funerals] as well as daily expenses, on the conditions he determines.
I know this is a bondage but don’t know how to get rid of it. I tried once but that did not work out, It would be better if we were provided with more wages for the same work rather than simply “releasing” us from the bondage. Look, even my daughters and daughter-in law work, still we cannot eat three times a day. At least we have a place to hide our head.
I think the government can do a lot but I don’t know why it’s not doing anything. Maybe it’s because we are poor and weak.
As told to researchers at Anti-Slavery International for their report 'Poverty, Discrimination and Slavery: The Reality of Bonded Labour in India, Nepal and Pakistan'