Christians, have been "illegally enslaved" on the outskirts of Pakistan’s major cities and towns.
Although its constitution forbids slavery in "21st century Pakistan, a deplorable, archaic, and illegal system of bonded labor is alive and well," said Jubilee Campaign USA, an influential advocacy group which investigated the situation of slaves.
The Center for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS) managed to free at least 414 Christian slaves in 2006 and 342 in 2005, but many more remain captives, according to Jubilee Campaign USA.
While most slaves are Christians, Muslim descendent of low caste Hindus are also among those involved in especially "agriculture and the back-breaking work of the brick kilns as well as in mines the carpet industry and domestic service," Jubilee Campaign USA Director Ann Buwalda told BosNewsLife in a statement.
She said slavery is proliferated through an endemic and widespread system of loans which "exploits impoverished and minority groups." Her delegation established that, "the poorest of Pakistan’s poor" approach a wealthy landlord, or ‘zamindar’, either directly or through a broker for a small loan, a nominal amount that often means "the difference between life and death for a sick child or a starving family member."
In exchange, the debtor with his wife and children,"are bound to the creditor/employer until the entire debt is paid," Buwalda said. "The unconscionable bonded labor system is designed to ensure that debts are never paid off, as arbitrary (and illegal) interest accumulates at extravagant rates without the understanding or consent of poor illiterate debtors."
Buwalda said debtors and their families "are kept in perpetual bondage to these modern-day slave owners" with an employer paying only "a single despicably low wage to the husband, while the wife and children are not compensated for their work."
Typically, 50 percent of the wage is withheld under the pretence that it is applied to the family’s debt, investigators said. "In Pakistan’s brick kilns, families begin their hard labor before dawn and work late into the evening, slaving for over 12 hours each day, seven days a week, for less than 1,800 rupees" about $30 per month, Buwalda explained.
She said Jubilee Campaign USA had established that, "fathers, mothers, and their children work in the blistering heat of summer and the punishing cold of winter. The lands on which the brick kilns sit are covered in thick soot being constantly expelled from enormous black chimneys. While husbands and sons raise pick axes and haul heavy loads, wives and daughters wash their family’s tattered clothing in streams and against soot-covered rocks"
At the end of the night families retire "to square brick shelters furnished with nothing but bare bamboo cots – only to begin the cycle again before daybreak," she said, adding that the "grueling cycle also includes the likelihood of assault."
In February 2006, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) reported that international groups found "almost one million bonded laborers", or slaves, in 4,000 brick kilns across the country." Physical and sexual abuse, especially of children, was allegedly common, with women also reporting rape by kiln owners.
Children of the brick kilns are denied "even basic education and are unaware that they are legally free to leave their lives of bondage or avail themselves of training that could help them secure outside employment," Jubilee Campaign USA said.
In early 2006, thousands of "bonded brick kiln workers" reportedly organized strikes and protests demanding better wages, kiln registration, and "an end to the humiliation of women workers and the withdrawal of all false cases registered by the police at the behest of the owners."
Jubilee Campaign USA has urged the international community to pressure Pakistan’s authorities to crackdown on slavery. "The country receives enormous financial support from the United States while its government portrays Pakistan as a nation committed to protecting human rights.
However no nation that turns a blind eye to the enslavement of its most vulnerable can be considered a protector of human rights," Buwalda said.
Pakistan’s government has said it will tackle discrimination of religious minorities, including apparently slavery.