Misery, deprivation not yet over for freed bonded labourers: NGO
HYDERABAD: Not much has changed for the labourers who have gained freedom from bondage in terms of deprivation, want, neglect and deplorable living conditions. The 5,965 freed bonded labourers residing in the Sikandarabad Hari Camp, Baba Saladin Hari Camp and Azadnagar Hari Camp are living in inhuman and miserable conditions. Speaking at a press conference organised by the Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (Sparc) at the Hyderabad Press Club on Friday after a fact-finding visit to the main camps of freed bonded labourers, the forum’s executive director Arshad Mehmood lamented that despite the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act 1992, there were thousands of men, women and children who were living in bondage, also called modern day slavery.
Those who have been freed with the help of the NGOs are faced with numerous problems due to lack of proper rehabilitation strategies, he said. He added that the government of Pakistan had set up a Bonded Labour Fund with an initial grant of Rs 100 million.
The basic criteria under the fund includes resettlement in new homes, employment, skill development, proper health facilities, education and creation of self-employment in the farming sector. The fund, he said, is with the Ministry of Labour and to this day the total amount has not been utilised.
National Manager Media and Creative Unit Sparc Fazila Gulrez said the problems identified by the freed bonded labourers were identical to what the Bonded Labour Fund was supposed to address. The main problem was of allotment of land to the poor Haris, provision of basic needs such as water, electricity, school facilities for the children, proper healthcare systems and employment for both adult males and females and of great importance was the need for vocational training for better employment opportunities.
It is sad that these people are living not only below the poverty line but they are much below the poverty line where even taking a bath is a luxury. After the need for permanent land, water is the most vital and important need of these people. Sense of proper sanitation and hygiene has no meaning and its absence is cause of skin diseases, which is rampant besides hepatitis. There is no immediate medical assistance available for emergencies such as injury caused to adults and children working in the factories and while breaking stones.
The one-room school is vacant because there are no teachers available, the misery and deprivation is etched on the faces of the people who are trying desperately to survive. National Manager Bonded Labour Sparc Kashif Bajeer and Iqbal Detho said the forum had so far helped 5,965 bonded labourers gain freedom from the modern day slavery.
They said the Sparc had also been instrumental in providing CNICs to 9,632 bonded labourers, birth registration of 3,600 children, Benazir Income Support Programme for 455 women. There are at least 1.7 million bonded labourers in the agriculture sector all over Pakistan in general and particularly in southern Sindh and the Punjab, who are living in miserable conditions on agriculture farms and brick kilns. This is in addition to the large number of bonded labourers in carpet weaving, mining, etc despite the fact that the Constitution and related laws had declared the evil practice of bonded labour as illegal.