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

Could Nemtsov Threaten Putin in Death as in Life?

Dynamic and debonair opposition leader had supported liberal economic reforms, criticized Russian president's aggression in Ukraine More

Oil Smuggling Highlights Challenges in Shutting Down IS Finances

Pentagon spokesman says Islamic State 'certainly continues to get revenue from the oil industry black market' but that airstrikes have made a dent More

India Focuses on Infrastructure, Investment to Propel Economy

Government expects economy to grow at 8 to 8.5 percent in next fiscal year 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.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

World Currencies

EUR
USD
0.8896
JPY
USD
119.26
GBP
USD
0.6475
CAD
USD
1.2451
INR
USD
61.816

Rates may not be current.