ISLAMABAD: The National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR) on Wednesday suggested improving access to justice for bonded labour and enhancing the capacity of District Vigilance Committees (DVCs) to suppress the use of forced labour in the country.

The recommendations made part of a research study titled: ‘The Issue of Bonded Labour in Pakistan: Brick Kilns Workers in Punjab and Tenant Farmers in Sindh’, launched by the commission on Wednesday.

The study said the primary hope for change lied in the implementation of judicial rulings and the passing of new legislation, particularly with regards to agricultural tenancy rights and brick kilns.

The study stated that existing laws regarding bonded labour, including the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act 1992, and subsequent provincial legislation, failed to protect labourers due to weak implementation.

Stresses on enhancing District Vigilance Committees capacity

It said that there was a general disinterest on the part of the state functionaries, who were often influenced by traditional feudal power structures that sought to maintain bonded labour.

The study showed that lack of implementation of Sindh Tenancy Act and feudal involvement provided cover to practices of debt-bondage. It said that although the judiciary had established binding precedents for the abolition of rural debt-bondage, implementation of court judgments remains limited.

Speaking on this occasion, National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR) chairperson Rabiya Javeri Agha said the labourers lacked necessary facilities such as safety equipment, medical coverage, clean drinking water and social protection.

“Poverty-stricken, and plagued by sharp inflation and exploitative employers, bonded laborers work in unregulated kilns with weak labour inspections, non-functional district vigilance committees (DVCs) and lax implementation of regulations,” she added.

The report recommended establishing or strengthening unions and other associations of labourers that would help protect labour rights through collective bargaining and representation. It also suggested revising the brick kiln registration process and developing a robust strategy to expedite the process by providing additional resources to the labour department and implementing incentives and enforcement mechanisms to ensure the registration of all brick kilns.

The study called for increasing the incomes of labourers in fields where bonded labour is prevalent and prioritising data collection, record keeping and CNIC registration through Nadra mobile units. It urged Election Commission of Pakistan to bring such segments of the society into the electoral net.

The study further suggested that no family should be allowed to work as a single unit and children should not be permitted to work in brick kilns. The study also called for encouraging ethical buying standards through law, and that brick buyers must be pushed to procure bricks from kilns that provided a safe and decent working environment.

Published in Dawn, August 10th, 2023

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