Entitled “Elimination of Bonded and Child Labour at Brick Kilns”, the Peace and Human Development (PHD-PAK) and Bhatta Mazdoor Union (BMU) organised a press conference in Faisalabad Press Club on February 26, 2016.
In the conference the director of Peace and Human Development (PHD-PAK), Suneel Malik said, “The Punjab Prohibition of Child Labour at Brick Kilns Ordinance 2016 issued by the Governor of the Punjab province, announces penalty for owners violating the provisions of the legislation. Though the promulgation of the ordinance is a healthy step to stop child labour at brick kilns, but the government must take socio-economic initiatives for elimination of mortgaging the families of workers through advance payment for child labour at brick kilns, and ensuring that brick-kilns workers are not compelled to make their children work, and seek advances from employers.”
Bricks are still made by hand in Pakistan—just as they were in Britain in the 19th century—and those who work in the brick fields are little better than slaves to hard labour. Many of them are Christians and among the poorest of the poor.
The general secretary of the Bhatta Mazdoor Union (BMU), Asghar Shaheen said, “Brick kiln workers work hard in the fields during hot and cold weather to make mud bricks, but it is pity that brick kiln workers are paid not even a single penny due to business closure during rainy and winter season. They are forced to borrow money as loan from their employers in order to make both ends meet, which virtually transform them into slaves.”
The district general secretary of the Awami Workers Party (AWP), Arif Ayaz said, “The Bonded and child labour persists despite declaring it punishable offence in article 11 of the constitution of Pakistan. The brick kiln workers are bonded through the system of advance payments (peshgi), resulting in exploitation and harassment of workers and their families, which restrict them not to leave the brick kilns of their free will due to debt bondage.”
“The demand of brick kiln owners to make parents of children of brick kiln workers responsible for child labour is not justified as only owners are the sole authority for any employment at their brick kilns and should be held responsible if any child labour is found at brick kilns,” a labour rights activist added.
Brick kiln labourers work long hours in back-breaking, dangerous conditions. Whole families—even small children—work all day to make bricks by hand. From before dawn and in the blistering heat of the sun they then stack the bricks to be baked in huge mud ovens. If they manage to make 1,000 bricks a day they receive about £2 / $3. It is a demeaning work for pitiful rewards.
As bricks cannot be made during the rainy season, most workers are deep in debt to the manager, who is eager to advance them small loans that bind them to the kiln for life. It is a cruel slavery from which they can never escape. To escape is to invite swift and sometimes violent revenge from the kiln owner.
The most popular example is of a 12 year old Christian boy Iqbal Masih who fled from bonded labour and helped free thousands of kids from the slavery. He was later shot to death by unknown assailants.