Pakistan: Christian brick kiln families freed by CLAAS

Five Christian families working on the brick kilns have been recovered and freed by CLAAS, through the court bailiff.

On May 5, 2014 CLAAS (Centre for legal aid assistance and settlement), which provides free legal aid, submitted two habeas corpus petitions in the Lahore High Court on behalf of five Christian families who had been illegally detained by their Muslim brick kiln owners.

The High Court instructed two bailiffs to recover the families and ordered that they be produced in court on May 6.

CLAAS’s staff accompanied the bailiffs to two separate locations, having arranged two vehicles for raids at the Brick kiln of Gul Nawaz Cheema where four people were confined and bound to work.

The other bailiff went to the village of Ahmed Nagar where five people were confined at the Dera (place) of Gul Nawaz Cheema (brick kiln owner’s company owner). When the bailiff and CLAAS’s team arrived at the local police station, the officers did not cooperate and made up excuses to try and delay the process, so Gul Nawaz could hide or move his detainees somewhere else.

After lengthy arguments, when the police finally raided the brick kiln, then detainees were not there.

Subsequently, the bailiff brought three recovered individuals to Lahore. They were accommodated in CLAAS’s safe house for a night and the next morning they were produced in court. Later, the habeas corpus petition was disposed of accordingly.

Statement of detainees after they recovered

After their release, one of the bonded families visited CLAAS’s office in Lahore, Pakistan and shared their suffering. 

They said that they had been in bonded labour for more than 25 years. One of the women, Safia Bibi, she started work at the brick kiln of Gul Nawaz Cheema, along with her husband Anwar Masih, soon after her marriage. She has nine children all born at the brick kiln and when the children grew up they also started work at the brick kiln.

They lived in a house at the brick kiln without the facilities of a bathroom or toilet. But owner Gul Nawaz often made this family for work without wages and whenever they tried to leave to work somewhere else, he severely tortured them. They said that they would sometimes have to go for days without food, and when they demanded money, were forced to work more.

In 2013 Safia’s husband died due to sickness and weakness because he was forced to work without food. Not only was he prevented from visiting a doctor, but would not have been able to afford treatment even if allowed. His children were not allowed to attend his funeral and were forced to work on the day.

They were also the only Christian family working on the brick kiln, and therefore were not allowed to attend prayer meetings or celebrate Christmas and other religious festivals. 

Nasir Saeed, Director CLAAS-UK , said that it is sad that even in the 21st century, slavery still continues in Pakistan.

He added: “Although it is illegal to take employees into bonded labour, brick kiln owners are rich and influential, and therefore they are hardly questioned and brought to the justice. Even if they are raided they get away with offering bribes and drawing on their local influence.

“I have personally visited and interviewed bonded labourers, and they work for very low wages from dawn to dusk but still remain in debt for generations.

“They live in unhygienic mud houses without any modern facilities. The whole family is never allowed celebrate any family or religious festival.

“Most of the money they earn goes towards pay their existing debt. As kiln owner charges them heavy interest therefore their debts are never paid and they run to the next generation.

“People are sometimes sold from one brick kiln owner to another.”

CLAAS-PK provides free legal aid to people, but sometimes if they cannot find better employment the kiln owner takes them back by force. The government is aware of the situation, but unfortunately has never taken concentrated steps for the welfare of these people, and therefore slavery continues.