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.
    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.

    Sharon Behn

    Sharon Behn is a foreign correspondent working out of Voice of America’s headquarters in Washington D.C  Her current beat focuses on political, security and humanitarian developments in Iraq, Syria and Turkey. Follow Sharon on Twitter and on Facebook.

    You May Like

    Video Democrats Clinton, Kaine Offer 'Very Different Vision' Than Trump

    In a jab at Trump, Clinton says her team wants to 'build bridges, not walls'; Obama Hails Kaine's record; Trump calls Kaine a 'job-killer'

    Turkey Wants Pakistan to Close Down institutions, Businesses Linked to Gulen

    Thousands of Pakistani students are enrolled in Gulen's commercial network of around two dozen institutions operating in Pakistan for over two decades

    AU Passport A Work in Progress

    Who will get the passport and what the benefits are still need to be worked out

    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.
    In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movementi
    X
    July 22, 2016 11:49 AM
    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Poor Residents in Cleveland Not Feeling High Hopes of Republican Convention

    With the Republican Party's National Convention underway in Cleveland, Ohio, delegates and visitors are gathered in the host city's downtown - waiting to hear from the party's presidential candidate, Donald Trump. But a few kilometers from the convention's venue, Cleveland's poorest residents are not convinced Trump or his policies will make a difference in their lives. VOA's Ramon Taylor spoke with some of these residents as well as some of the Republican delegates and filed this report.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video With Yosemite as Backdrop, Obama Praises National Parks

    Last month, President Barack Obama and his family visited some of the most beautiful national parks in the U.S. Using the majestic backdrop of a towering waterfall in California's Yosemite National Park, Obama praised the national park system which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. He talked about the importance of America’s “national treasures” and the need to protect them from climate change and other threats. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Counter-Islamic State Coalition Plots Next Steps

    As momentum shifts against Islamic State in Iraq, discussions are taking place about the next steps for driving the terrorist group from its final strongholds. Secretary of State John Kerry is hosting a counter-IS meeting at the State Department, a day after defense ministers from more than 30 countries reviewed and agreed upon a course of action. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb reports.
    Video

    Video Russia's Participation at Brazil Olympic Games Still In Question

    The International Olympic Committee has delayed a decision on whether to ban all Russian teams from competing in next month's Olympic Games in Brazil over allegations of an elaborate doping scheme. The World Anti-Doping Agency recently released an independent report alleging widespread doping by Russian athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. So far, only Russian track and field athletes have been barred from the Summer Games in Brazil. VOA's Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.
    Video

    Video Millennials Could Determine Who Wins Race to White House

    With only four months to go until Americans elect a new president, one group of voters is getting a lot more attention these days: those ages 18 to 35, a generation known as millennials. It’s a demographic that some analysts say could have the power to decide the 2016 election. But a lot depends on whether they actually turn out to vote. VOA’s Alexa Lamanna reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora

    World Currencies

    EUR
    USD
    0.9079
    JPY
    USD
    106.10
    GBP
    USD
    0.7636
    CAD
    USD
    1.3106
    INR
    USD
    67.076

    Rates may not be current.