01 August, 2014 / Shawwal 4, 1435

Of human bondage

Published Apr 28, 2013 09:56am

According to the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1992 the definition of bonded labour is “a labourer who incurs, or has, or is presumed to have incurred, a bonded debt” under the bonded labour system, which means “the system of forced, or partly forced labour under which a debtor enters, or has, or is presumed to have, entered into an agreement with the creditor”.

As per this act, the bonded labour system stands abolished and every bonded labourer stands free and discharged from any obligation to render any bonded labour. It further says that no person shall make any advance under the bonded labour system.

“The bonded labour act can be an effective tool if its provisions are implemented in letter and spirit,” argues Kashif Bajeer of Society for Protection of Rights of the Child, which is working against children and adults in bondage. He agrees with Malookani that the law is good but its implementation is poor. “The peasants cry for social justice but in vain”, he says.

Bajeer points out that peasants are sold by one landowner to the other, “There are no laws to check human trade.” He adds that it is largely due to the fact that the agriculture sector is not registered and the entire labour is considered as informal labour. “No labour laws apply to them, they don’t get any social security cover, nor are there any funds allocated for proper development and rehabilitation of freed peasants,” he remarks.

Certain amendments and clauses have been introduced in the Sindh Tenancy Act 1950, and according to Malookani, this act would serve to protect the rights of the peasantry only if it is implemented. “These peasants can’t be shifted to urban centres as they are used to living in a particular environment. They contribute to the rural economy and must be considered equal citizens of the state with their rights ensured as workers,” he says.

Many peasants were liberated from different private jails initially by the HRCP and then other NGOs followed suit to work for their rehabilitation. The HRCP’s late Shakeel Pathan had pioneered a campaign for peasants in Sindh who were kept in chains even while working in the fields.

A sizeable sum of Rs33 million was released by the then labour minister Omar Asghar Khan in 2001 for resolving their issues. The remaining amount of Rs67m had reportedly lapsed although some quarters were built in Kotri for freed peasants.

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