SO, WHAT IS BONDED LABOR?

We set out for Lahore to find out why the practice of bonded labor is still happening despite it being illegal in Pakistan. Pre-assumptions aside, we needed to speak with people who understand the topic well. So far, we spoke with those who are in the brick kiln industry, which practices bonded labor widely, a lawyer and an activist.

My capable teammates worked with local fixers to get us in touch with brick kiln owners, whose kilns are on the outskirts of Lahore, Kasur. It was easier to film them than expected because I feel that we were ready to hear their perspective on the topic. Before anything else, let me show you some pictures from our time in the brick kilns.

Laborers and their family gather for a photo at their home.

Children pose for a photo in the brick kiln.

Father and son.

Children learn to read in the study area.

Neha mics up a laborer before we interview her.

These laborers do not have access to safety nets that should be provided by the government. It is not surprising that someone else fills that void. That someone else could be anybody. For the sake of our study, they are brick kiln owners. These laborers needed money to start off their lives and turned to these owners. In return? They need to work in the brick kilns.

The laborers often continue to borrow money for their needs. At the same time, due to the loan interest, they are often serving their time in the kilns to pay off the debt owed by their parents or grandparents. That’s why bonded labor is also known as modern-day slavery. I suggest you read this article written by Mehvish Muneera, a lawyer whom we spoke with, to understand the practice through a legal lens.

You can blame the disparity in literacy between brick kiln owners and the laborers. These laborers do not understand the loan agreement that they signed up for. The owners, on the other hand, argue that they provide basic needs like housing and healthcare to these laborers, something the government does not provide.

In March 1992, the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act was passed, hoping to end the “bonded labor system.” However, due to the lack of law enforcement, the absence of a safety net for these laborers and the increasing need for bricks in new residential towns, the practice continues to this day.

Since the human resources of the brick kiln industry work outside of the law, there is plenty of room for further exploitation. While the lack of law enforcement is apparent, someone else takes the matter into her own hands.

You may have seen her from Humans of New York. Her name is Syeda Ghulam Fatima.

Syeda Ghulam Fatima.