One of the best things about social media websites is that they are a great way of spreading awareness about little known issues. While surfing one such website today, I came across a picture of Iqbal Masih, a liberated bonded laborer, who fought against debt bondage in Pakistan. Reading about him made me realize that courage is all it takes to bring about change and make things better.
Going deeper into the issue of debt bondage in Pakistan, I found that it basically revolves around the concept whereby poor families agree to work for an employer in return for a monetary/non-monetary loan. They are bound to work under this arrangement till the time their loan is paid-off.
According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), the number of bonded laborers in Pakistan was over 1.7 million in 2006. Although, debt bondage is prohibited under the Constitution of Pakistan, Bonded Labor System (Abolition) Act, 1992 and Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Rules, 1995, it is still widely exercised in the country. Perhaps the reason for this is because the regulatory authorities who are supposed to ensure the enforcement if these laws have failed to competently do so. The practice of debt bondage is widespread across all provinces of Pakistan. There are several bonded laborers in our brick kilns, carpet industry, glass-bangle making industry, mining, tanneries and construction industry.
The Bonded Labour Liberation Front of Pakistan has been struggling since 1988 to uproot bonded labor from the country. However, more efforts need to be made in order to achieve its total eradication. First and foremost, it is imperative to establish exactly how many individuals are locked in debt bondage. Once the exact figures have been identified, coordinated efforts must be made by the government, NGOs and the community to create awareness about this horrible form of slavery, free those who are subjected to this menace and rehabilitate them.
Presently, a project to eliminate debt bondage in brick kilns is under way in Punjab. However, we would only know the outcome of such endeavors if their results are made public upon project completion.
We can only make things better in Pakistan if such issues are given significant coverage. Iqbal was 11 when he lost his life fighting for a just cause. He’s an unsung hero of our nation who deserves recognition. So spread the word!