In Pakistan, release and escape of bonded labourers decreased to more than 80 percent in 2014 and 2015 in comparison with release and escape in 2013. The data gathered by the Institute for Social Justice (ISJ) Pakistan shows surprising as well as worrisome news that in 2013, 1871 bonded labourers in agriculture and brick kilns sectors were released mainly through the courts and some of them had escaped from landlords’ captivity.
In 2014 and 2015, 292 and 376 bonded labourers were released respectively and some of them had escaped from the landlords’ captivity. This significantly reduced number of release of bonded labourers in agriculture and brick kilns sectors raises alarms and suspicious over the labour rights governance in Pakistan.
In 2013, the Global Slavery Index report had revealed that Pakistan was among top ten countries with 2.2 million people in modern slavery (debt bondage, bonded labour). Pakistan is among top ten countries on the Index which has extremely poor or worst national response to address the issue of modern slavery.
The data collected by ISJ through newspapers also reveals that in 2015, 132 bonded labourers were released and escaped from the landlords’ captivity only in agriculture sector in Sindh and 235 bonded labourers were released from brick kiln sector in Punjab and only 9 bonded labourers in brick kiln sector in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Of the total released in Sindh, 51 were children, 53 women and 28 men. Of the total released in Punjab, in brick kilns, 43 were women, 43 children and 149 men.
In 2014, total 292 bonded labourers were released from agriculture in Sindh and brick kilns in Punjab. Of the total in 2014, 275 were released from agriculture sector in Sindh that include 69 men, 91 women and 115 children. There were only 4 bonded labourers released from brick kiln and 13 in agriculture sectors in Punjab.
From Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), there were released 9 and 34 bonded labourers from brick kiln sector in 2015 and 2013 respectively. There were no reports about the release of bonded labourers in 2014 from KP. In all three years from 2013 to 2015, there was no case of release or escape of bonded labourers reported from Balochistan.
In 2014 and 2015, escapees from the captivity of the landlords in agriculture sector were nominal individuals (men and women) family members who after their escape filed habeas corpus cases in courts and got released their family members. From 2013 to 2015, total 2525 bonded labourers have been released from the captivity of landlords and brick kiln owners that includes 1160 children (46 percent), 616 women (24 percent) and 755 men (30 percent).
The ISJ Pakistan presumes that the number of release and escape of bonded labourers may have not been reported by the media; however, a sharp decline in the release of bonded labourers may be result of problems bonded labourers families face after their release in courts and ex-bonded labourers camps in-and-around Hyderabad. It may be the inference of landlords’ extra vigilance over the families, or may be advance payment to haris and brick kiln workers is not being provided by landlords or brick kiln owners, which is basically one of the causes of slaving hari and brick kiln worker families. This situation calls for an urgent investigation on the causes of decrease in bonded labourer’s release.