ISLAMABAD: Five Christian families rescued from the slavery of a Muslim brick kiln owner.
According to details, five Christian families have been set free after being served as slaves for more than two decades in a Muslim-run brick kiln in Wazirabad in Punjab province of Pakistan. A Pakistani NGO Centre for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement was involved in this rescue operation. The Centre for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement said it provided two vehicles for the May 6 raids at the brick. The Director of this advocacy group told,” a total of eight Christians were found working as slaves in the area, representing five families. Some were detained around the brick kiln itself; others at a nearby location linked to the kiln’s owner, Gul Nawaz Cheema. Our staff accompanied the bailiffs to two separate locations, after petitioning the Lahore High Court.”
He further stated that, there were no reports of arrests of the kiln owner so far, as it seems that the police are disinclined to further investigate into this case. The Christians who have been set free from the bonded labour said they had been “in bonded labour for more than 25 years”. One of the slave women was Safia Bibi who said she started working at the brick kiln along with her husband Anwar Masih, soon after her marriage. She further told that their nine children were all born at the brick kiln where they grew up and soon started working at the brick kiln. Adding to the inhuman behaviour of the kiln owners she reveals that, in 2013 her husband Anwar Masih died in the slavery because of sickness and weakness as he was forced to work without food. The Centre for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement revealed that,”He was prevented from visiting a doctor, but would not have been able to afford treatment even if allowed. His children were not allowed to attend his funeral and were forced to work on the day.”
The rescued Christian families went on to reveal that they were kept in a house at the brick kiln with no basic facilities such as a bathroom or toilet. They told that they would sometimes have to go for days without food and when they demanded money, were forced to work more. The brick kiln owner often made these families work without wages and whenever they tried to leave, he severely tortured them. They were Christians, they were not allowed to attend prayer meetings or celebrate Christmas and other religious festivals, according to investigators.
The Director of Centre for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement says they are committed to provide free legal aid to slaves. He said:
“It is sad that even in the 21st century, slavery still continues in Pakistan, a heavily Islamic nation.”
He said,”Although it is illegal to take employees into bonded labour, brick kiln owners are rich and influential, and therefore they are hardly questioned and brought to the justice. Even if they are raided they get away with offering bribes and drawing on their local influence. The government is aware of the situation, but unfortunately has never taken concentrated steps for the welfare of these people, and therefore slavery continues. Many Christians are forced to work in brick kilns to pay off family debts.” He also explains that, “Most of the money they earn goes towards paying their existing debt. As a kiln owner charges them heavy interest, their debts are never paid and they run to the next generation,” adding, “People are sometimes sold from one brick kiln owner to another.”