MIANWALI, May 2: Cashing in on the helplessness of a poor farmer, a landlord has ‘held hostage’ his two minor daughters for the last few months for his failure to return the loan (plus interest) advanced to him two years ago.

Reports said Muhammad Ramzan, a resident of Chak 1-ML, borrowed Rs8,000 from a landlord, Muhammad Azeem, of Hashimnagar village. The landlord set the condition that Ramzan would return the amount with interest.

A few months ago, Azeem demanded the money which came to around Rs30,000 from the farmer who expressed his inability to keep the promise. Some time later, the landlord ‘abducted’ his debtor’s daughters -- Fatima, 4, and Kaneezan, 6 -- and told him to get them back after clearing the loan.

Refusing to go soft on the girls of tender age, the landlord engaged them in petty jobs at his outhouse. Getting the scent of the issue, a resident of Chak 1-ML reported the incident to Human Rights Commission of Pakistan activists who visited the houses of both parties.

The landlord told the HRCP activists, including Ziaullah Khan and Advocate Khalil Khan, that it was a custom in this neck of the wood to hold children hostage till the recovery of the loan. In fact, he claimed, all money lenders in this area set conditions for advancing loans to the needy.

Many are the victims of the debt trap as the moneyed landlords exploit the poor farmers.

A visit to the farmer’s house revealed that a family of nine (seven children among them) live in a single-room mud house. With two of the daughters being held in captivity, the parents are spending sleepless nights. Sobbing out the ordeal, the mother said they got loan for treatment of their son a couple of years back, but now they had nothing to sell to return the loan and rescue the girls.

She said they were working in the fields to be able to earn that much money, also appealing to the philanthropists and the powers-that-be to rescue her daughters by paying the amount which was increasing with every passing day owing to interest.

When this correspondent tried to contact the landlord, he was away but his wife confirmed the presence of the girls with them as “security against loan”.

The Kundian police SHO said he knew nothing about the incident. “The police have nothing to do with this because it is a dispute which can best be settled between the parties,” he added

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