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Artwork highlights plight of bonded labour

September 15, 2013

ISLAMABAD, Sept 14: A three-day photograph display depicting the plight of labourers in brick kilns using images of children, men and women, kicked off at the National Art Gallery on Saturday evening.

The display was organised by the Bonded Labour Liberation Front (BLLF) Pakistan in collaboration with Fredrich Ebert Stiftung (FES).

Dozens of bonded labourers from Punjab were also present and minister for port and shipping, Kamran Michael, inaugurated the event as chief guest.

“The event also pays tribute to the Supreme Court of Pakistan for its historical decision prohibiting bonded labour in 1988. BLLF celebrates this day as Freedom Day,” said Uzma Zahoor, who is an advocate at the high court.

She said these bonded labourers were paid Rs200 to Rs300 against the minimum wage of Rs740. In 1988, the Supreme Court had declared all bonded labourers free.

Following the decision, the government carried out legislation in 1992 and passed the Bonded Labour Abolition Act, and the rules of the abolition act were framed in 1995.

However, even though the law is in place, it has not been implemented to date and almost 4.5 million bonded labourers today are still deprived of their basic rights.

“Their lives can be made much better if their rights are ensured. These include the right to education for their children, access to welfare schemes, and marriage, death and disability grants to mention a few benefits which bonded labourers are denied,” Uzma Zahoor explained.

The exhibition includes almost 100 clustered images of young mothers, children, and men working in brick kilns.

These images have been taken by professionals and volunteers from different walks of life, and even children in bonded labour have contributed.

For example, Qaisar Khan, a 14 year old bonded labourer, depicted a better life in which he was going to school instead of kneading muddy dough to make bricks.

Syeda Ghulam Fatima, the General Secretary BLLF, said the organisation had been struggling for the betterment of bonded/brick kiln labourers.

“The BLLF, which has been around since 1964, facilitates and supports the government to fulfill international commitments, conventions and treaties regarding labor standards and human rights,” she said.

Program Manager BLLF Mahar Safdar Ali, who is also one of the main artists to contribute to the display, said the exhibition is meant to highlight the working environment at brick kilns, and the miserable condition of the bonded labourers.

According to BLLF, there were over 18,000 registered brick kilns in the country of which nearly 10,000 are situated in Punjab. More than 4.5 million men, women and children were still working as bonded labourers in these kilns. — Staff Reporter