Bonded Labor in Pakistan: Another Name for Slavery

History is riddled with mistakes made by entire continents that ultimately revealed the atrocious capabilities of human beings as a species.

Bonded Labor History

Often directed towards their fellow beings, humans seem to be the only living presence that destroys its own kind on massive scales and yet finds ways to justify its actions as well.

Frequently segregating themselves over race, geographical locality or sheer progress, humans have enjoyed initial eras of conquering their under developed counterparts all over the globe. This has been declared discovery, expansion or blatant war at times.

In Pre-Columbian times prisoners of war and people who owed debts were forced into slavery. Those unfortunate enough to be unable to pay back their dues could be sentenced to work as a slave to the person owed until the debt was worked off.

Enslaving fellow humans, treating them as chattel and enforcing their lives to be nothing more than whatever pleased their “owners” is what was considered the epitome of cultural integrity not more than a hundred and fifty years ago in the United States of America. It was only when the thirteenth amendment abolished slavery that this practice was finally considered inhumane. As released on the 31st of January 1865 this amendment stated:

“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

Hence it eventually became a worldwide phenomenon that rallied popular support and massive outcries to inevitably deny a human the right to claim ownership of another; or so it was believed.

Third World Countries

The age old hierarchical structure of power applies in many rural to semi urban areas of a major selection of countries that band under the title of third world nations. An underdeveloped country lays claim to a quagmire of unresolved critical economic, social, political, cultural, religious, educational and socio economic issues that plague its residents. This gives that very country an unjustified yet somehow legitimate excuse when cases like abuse towards children or raping local women on a massive scale are brought to the lime light. Insubordinate governments or lack of a literate society?

These countries are merely being led by literate officials that enjoy illiterate hierarchical structures of autocrats in a democracy that screams out to the world stating it is nothing more than a mere joke repeated every four to five years; keeping the masses confused while the leaders ensure their states rot away as their pockets grow deeper.

Humans of New York

A 28 year old photographer Brandon Stanton started a photoblog in 2010 sharing stories of random strangers as they walked through the streets of New York. The response it received drove Brandon to broaden his canvas from New York to various locations across the globe. Eventually making way to Pakistan on 30th July 2015.

Various stories from humble family bonds to heart wrenching daily struggles were shared over the next month as Brandon explored the country. On August 15th Brandon shared a story that he marked his conclusion of Pakistan’s tour with. It was, as he stated, that of an agent of change named Syeda Ghulam Fatima.

Bonded Labor in Pakistan

The gross lapse in Pakistan’s state of governance and subsequent ignorance by the mass populace allows cases such as that of bonded labor in Pakistan to thrive, evolving into something that eventually bleeds its way into the eyes of the world. Brandon shared a series of 7 stories all centered around Ghulam Fatima as he described the blood red industry of brick kilns and how they have manifested the role of atrocious and at times immeasurably barbaric slave owners.

Bonded labor. A term used to create an illusion of a legitimate business and hence lawful form of employment, is in actuality a blatant lie hiding behind its disgusting guise a horrible truth; Slavery was never truly abolished. It is highly reminiscent to the Pre-Columbian form of slavery which encompassed an owed debt.

In 1992, Pakistan introduced the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, including imprisonment and fines for offenders. Claims have often been made on how the government uses this act to justly punish those that practice bonded enslavement. However, the reality all over the country is an immense contrast to these very claims.

Throughout rural Pakistan unfortunate circumstances force illiterate and desperate laborers to ask brick kiln owners for small loans in return for equivalent labor at those very kilns. However, once this loan has been handed over these people are caught in a trap that hands them an illusion of one day paying off their owed amount via appropriate manual labor, which in turn is decided by the brick kiln owners themselves. Herein lies the trap. The laborers are paid immensely insufficient money for their inhumane amounts of servitude while their loan begins piling up on an interest rate high enough to ensure that these people can never pay it back. These predatory terms eventually condemn these folks to work for the rest of their lives with no compensation.

Bonded Labour Liberation Front

Syeda Ghulam Fatima runs a small but highly determined organization by the name of Bonded Labour Liberation Front. She has suffered gunshot wounds electrocution and multiple counts of physical abuse for the sake of her activism. She has left no stone unturned in her efforts to save workers from their “owners” often placing herself physically between them as she fights for the laborers rights. Through this organization she has been working tirelessly in desperate attempts to liberate such tortured souls. The group is working to establish centers all over rural Pakistan so that every bonded laborer has access to support and legal assistance.

Ghulam Fatima operated on a very tight budget and was at the end of her financial competences when Brandon interviewed her.

Humans of New York has, since then, set out to raise funds for the Liberation front and they have, effectively, raised over 2 million dollars from all over the world within the ten days they had allocated to receiving donations from the “Let’s Help Fatima End Bonded Labor” campaign on Indiegogo.

With this capital, the Front seeks to eventually eradicate the plague of bonded labor from the entire country through a systematic approach that they are henceforth formulating.

About Ahmed Moin

Ahmed has always found solace in good literature and has relished any accumulation of words, versed in a manner that surprises him. He has always found passion in writing and works on honing his skills while freelancing professional content for a little over a year now. He’s currently volunteering at a local animal shelter in Lahore, Pakistan. Their activities can be followed via the following Facebook page. Donations are always needed and highly appreciated!

All Articles