UK/PAKISTAN: Parliamentary report slams ‘consistent pattern of sexual abuse’ against Pakistan’s 1 million bonded labourers

A kiln worker in Faisalabad, Pakistan.
A kiln worker in Faisalabad, Pakistan.

A fresh parliamentary report has found evidence of women and girls working in brick kilns being subjected to physical, psychological and sexual abuse.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Pakistani Minorities launched a report today (Wednesday 29th May) estimating more than 1 million people work in bonded labour in 20,000 brick kilns across Pakistan.

The report cited evidence from Human Rights Watch that: “There is a consistent pattern of sexual abuse at the brick kilns, including rape.

“Two women brick kiln workers interviewed by Human Rights Watch/Asia had been forced to have regular sexual relations with their employer or members of his family. Some women were raped by… local police officers.

“Women are often sold into marriage or prostitution if their husbands escape or are held as a guarantee for their husband’s return.”

Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) (UK) submitted evidence showing the severity of the abuse faced by brick kilns workers:

“Those trapped within the brick kilns are often subjected to the worst forms of physical and psychological abuse, with their most basic rights denied.

“The kiln owners regularly abuse the female workers, keeping them physically tied down in their homes as prisoners. They are not allowed to leave and are required to do manual labour around the home.”

ACN also highlighted the disproportionate number of Pakistani Christians affected by this situation:

“A contact of ours on the ground in Faisalabad tells us that… in some cases, if there are 100 workers in a brick kiln, 80 of them will be Christians. In other cases, it’s 40-50 percent of the workers who are Christians.”

According to ACN’s most recent Religious Freedom in the World report, Christians account for just 1.9 per cent of the population of Pakistan.

Lord Alton of Liverpool, Co-Chair of the APPG for Pakistani Minorities, wrote in the foreword of the bonded labour report: “For too long a blind eye has been turned to owners who treat employees such as subhuman, as a throwback to the degrading inhumanity of the caste system and ‘untouchability.’

“Too many of them are power brokers and some even hold political office. This may help to explain why good laws remain unimplemented.

“No one who reads this short report will be able to say they ‘did not know.’ What follows must be concerted, persistent and determined political and judicial action. The annihilation of barbaric debt bondage should be a priority for all right-thinking people.”