News / Economy

Pakistan's Bonded Laborers Trapped in Cycle of Debt

Pakistan's Bonded Laborers Trapped in Cycle of Debti
X
May 09, 2014 8:35 PM
In Pakistan today, more than two million people, including children, work as bonded laborers, a system the United Nations describes as modern-day slavery. Sharon Behn reports on the life of brick-makers who use their children as collateral for debts to their employers.
Sharon Behn
In Pakistan today, more than 2 million people, including children, work as bonded laborers, a system the United Nations describes as modern-day slavery.

An example of bonded labor can be seen in the life of brick-makers who use their children as collateral for debts to their employers.
 
Mohammad Ali has been making bricks since he was a child. Like his father before him, Ali’s entire family works to repay money he has borrowed from the factory owner.
 
They get paid roughly $6 per thousand bricks.
 
“They take a third of what we earn," he said. "They give us some, and they take some for themselves. But this debt never ends, because sometimes we get sick. Sometimes we need it for electricity. Sometimes we take a day off. Then we have to borrow more money. So it never gets paid off.”

Modern-day slaves

Ali has tuberculosis. If he dies early, his children will spend their lives working off his loan.
 
The United Nations says these are modern-day slaves, trapped in a cycle of debt they barely understand.
 
Francesco d’Ovidio, head of the U.N.’s International Labor Organization in Islamabad, says international companies are threatening to leave Pakistan if this practice of bonded labor is not abolished.
 
“So, in addition to the human rights angle, there is also an economic reason to improve the compliance with these standards, and I must say that Pakistan in particular is feeling this threat very seriously, is taking this threat very seriously,” he said.
 
Zareena Bibi has been working in different brick kilns since she was eight. Extreme poverty means all her children work too.
 
“My children were small, and I beat them in order to make them work harder to earn money to feed ourselves," she said. "Then, one day, I cut my foot and bled a lot, but I had many children and I thanked God that at least we would have food that way.”

Cheap labor

Until recently, these workers and families did not even have birth or death certificates, or identification cards. Technically, they didn’t even exist.

Choudhry Faiz Rasoul is one of the rare factory owners getting his workers social security cards, giving them access to state welfare programs. But he says the workers' inability to budget is part of the problem.
 
“The government wants us to write off their existing loans. This will destroy everything," he said. "You write off their loans today, and tomorrow they will again start borrowing. They will leave me, go to another kiln, borrow more money, then come back to me, and borrow again, and the whole industry will be destroyed.”
 
Pakistan’s economy relies heavily on cheap labor. Extreme poverty, illiteracy and a lack of skills guarantee that workers and their families readily provide such labor, even if that means they are bonded for life.

You May Like

Katrina Brought Enduring Changes to New Orleans

The city’s recovery is the result of the people and culture the city is famous for, as well as newcomers and start-up industries More

China to Open Stock Markets to Pension Funds

In unprecedented move, government to soon allow local pension funds to invest up to $94 billion in domestic shares More

Magical Photo Slides Show Native Americans in Late 1800s

Walter McClintock spent 20 years photographing the Blackfoot Indians and their vanishing culture at the dawn of the modern age More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: MUSTAFA from: INDIA
May 09, 2014 10:31 PM
The main problem in Pakistan, there is no economic development. There is no possibility for poor to raise their standard of living. Politicians are making money and living abroad as king. Zaradari is one example. He made money from corrupt sources and make his business empire in whole world. Dubai is one example for his business hub. All Politicians are making their own personal goals and they will achieve in FIVE YEARS. They know they will loose election so they have to meet their personal goals as quick as possible. No body is taking care of general public needs. Politicians can increase social problems but they cannot decrease their day to day problems. These Politicians make corrupt Police, Justice System,Arm forces and ALL GOVT DEPARTMENTS so general public cannot get justice from any Govt Institutions. They do not know to whom they call for their day to day social problems.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs

World Currencies

EUR
USD
0.8874
JPY
USD
120.83
GBP
USD
0.6497
CAD
USD
1.3271
INR
USD
66.162

Rates may not be current.