Nadeem and his wife are bonded brick kiln labourers in Pakistan, and parents of five children aged three to ten. Both are illiterate. Their work is heavy and back-breaking, under the blazing sun.
When Nadeem first began brick-making, ten years ago, he borrowed 42,000 rupees (about $400) from the brick kiln owner. With the passage of time his debt has risen to 215,000 rupees (about $2050). Many brick kiln workers owe money to their employers, for without borrowing it is almost impossible for them to survive financially during the monsoon months when the heavy rain prevents them making bricks. These debts (on which interest is charged) keep the worker “bonded” to their employer, like a slave, unable to leave and seek another job.
Three years ago, Nadeem and his family were sold by his first employer to another brick kiln owner who treated them very badly. Nadeem’s wife fell ill but the brick kiln owner asked Nadeem to use force to make her continue working.
Then they were sold to yet another brick kiln owner for the cost of their debt – 215,000 rupees (about $2050). Nadeem “signed” the agreement with a thumb-print, unaware that the document was committing him and his family to an even worse position. His new owner wants to have all five children working alongside their parents, to increase the number of bricks produced. So Nadeem cannot send them to school. The family cannot go to church any longer because the owner insists they work on Sundays. Until they pay back the ever-growing debt, they are trapped.