Alert Sign Dear reader, online ads enable us to deliver the journalism you value. Please support us by taking a moment to turn off Adblock on

Alert Sign Dear reader, please upgrade to the latest version of IE to have a better reading experience


The age of slavery returns

January 23, 2012

The term slavery has various connotations; however the most aberrant remains the literal ‘buying and selling’ of humans for the most atrocious and abominable purposes. What qualifies under the parameters of slavery is still a grey area but it is not unwise to say that killings of domestic help, for any reason whatsoever takes us back to the dark ages when such practises were witnessed every day – another glimpse into the barbaric lives of ‘the uncivilised societies’.

The atrocities carried out against humans ‘by humans’ never cease to amaze me. However, what amazes me most is the insensitive attitude of society towards stories which should be criticised and highlighted the most – ironically such stories seem to gather less response and minimal action. The culprits responsible for perpetrating such heinous crimes should be brought to justice as soon as possible and precedents should be set, in order to deter people from engaging in any such cruel acts.

Contrary to prevalent beliefs, slavery was the first crime against human rights, to be recognised and abolished, but ironically it is still one of the most apparent problems of developing countries. In countries, such as Pakistan, Bangladesh and India, the never-ending list of modern slavery practices is sufficient enough to raise a red flag, not only amongst the multilateral agencies and human rights committees, but also in our very own minds.

Pakistan is an agriculture based economy which is one of the many reasons why feudalism is such a common ‘phenomena’ in Pakistan. Bonded labour or debt bondage is the most revolting from of contemporary slavery which is more common in agricultural countries. Feudal lords and other influential leaders in rural settings grant advances and loans to farmers and other workers, with ample interest, making it impossible for poor debtors to pay off, hence the ideology of Peshgi system. Pehsgi was abolished by the Supreme Court of Pakistan in 1992; however, not much has been put into practice since the formulation of these so-called regulatory frameworks.

According to various surveys, an estimated population of 1.8 million Pakistanis are held in debt bondage, which consumes a major chunk of the rural population. These workers are made to work in dreadful environments, which remain more prevalent in the business of brick kilning, farming, carpet weaving and domestic help. The workers and families categorised under debt bondage are oppressed and deprived of all human rights. The female workers/family members are subjected to beatings and sexual abuse.

Dalits, or lower-caste Hindus, face the brunt of such atrocities because they are still considered as minorities in Pakistan. Moreover, many children are trafficked in to UAE and other Arab countries, where camel races are considered a sport for the elite, also become a part of the vicious slavery cycle.

Children as young as six years of age are smuggled as they are preferred over adult riders, because of their agility and small body structure. These children are exposed to dangers and are beaten badly for not participating to their fullest in the event which is why the few ‘privileged children’ who manage to return to Pakistan are malnourished and show signs of psychological traumas.

Human trafficking has faced a sharp increase globally and Pakistan is not an exception to this illegal trade. In fact, human trafficking cases witnessed a sharp increase in the year 2011 particularly. The smuggled people are exploited to do many jobs, with ‘sexual slavery’ topping the list.

Different forms of slavery exist everywhere around us but we seem to overlook them. These issues might not be highlighted like various political debates and controversies, that never seem to miss the prime time focus, but they remain integral to Pakistan’s growth as a nation.

Many a times we literally quieten our conscience by blaming the government and local social factions for counteractive measures that they should have ensured, but have we ever questioned ourselves? How many of us have underage children working in our own houses? I can virtually see many hands rising and the argument is due to change course and state that ‘child labour does not qualify as slavery and that in a country where poverty reins, every member of the family has to contribute, in order to survive’ but is making a six-year-old child work in a carpet weaving factory, slouched and slaving away for 14 hours consecutively, justified?

I say that it all boils down to the chain of events that truly contaminate our minds and stop us from thinking rationally. One crime leads to another and in order to abolish slavery, individuals will have to take actions – that will speak and change the status quo. Eradication of social crimes should become our personal manifesto and we should not rely on the government or anyone else to act.

Thus the onus lies on us, the people of Pakistan to overcome all the obstacles and bring an end to the dark ages predominant in our culture and mindset.


The writer is a Reporter at