03/09/2021, 16.32
PAKISTAN
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Faisalabad, the 'miracle' of freedom for brick factory indebted

by Shafique Khokhar

Asma Bibi, 26, and her husband Munawar Masih, 28, talk about the misery and slavery of living in a brick factory. Joy and gratitude for their debt paid thanks to the AsiaNews campaign. Now their three children will be able to go to school and will be able to have a house with a toilet.

Faisalabad (AsiaNews) - “Yes, miracles do happen! If a family takes loans from the brick factory owner, that family can only pay off the debt a miracle happens. Today I am witness to a miracle! Thanks to all those who helped us to regain our freedom!”. These are the words of Asma Bibi, 26, wife of Munawar Masih, 28, immediately after their debt was paid thanks to the campaign launched by AsiaNews last December.

The campaign initially only wanted to provide food and clothing for the winter for 52 families from Kamalpur who worked in brick factories. Poverty, disease, the rainy season and the pandemic have halted work and these people have had to go into debt with their own bosses to cover costs, thus ensuring cheap labour for years. To cover their debts, the whole family, even the children, are forced to work, giving up school and living as slaves.

Some AsiaNews readers, learning about their situation, said they were willing to cover the entire debt that the 52 families had contracted with their masters. On 4 March the debt of 12 families was paid; on March 1st, the debt of seven families was settled.

They are awash with joy and gratitude. Munawar Masih, father of three children (see photo), confides to AsiaNews: “First of all I want to thank God who today has brought us out of slavery. I have been working in the brick factory for 5 years; I have three children, a son and two daughters, but none of them go to school. The loan I took from my master was 50 thousand rupees [about 270 euros] I needed to buy something for the house and food in this period with Covid [when the factory is closed-ed]. But although we worked hard, we never managed to repay our debt. We live in a small house which is one room, with no bathroom. The owner of the brick factory gave it to us. He forces us to work when we feel good, but even when we are not in good health: we are forced to work because we are indebted to him”.

“Today, thanks to you I can pay the debt to my boss; I will be able to rent a small house with a bathroom, so my wife and children will not meet the wrath of the owners of the fields, where they are forced to do their business. Now the people, looking at us, will be able to say: Here you see, they were slaves in the brick factories, but now they are leading their lives in freedom. I finally see serenity in our future: my children will be able to go to school; no one will be able to force them to work among the bricks. Nobody will insult us anymore: after paying the debt, we will be equal in dignity and respect with our boss. Truly, in all humility, I say thank you to the people of God who listened to our voice and freed us.”

His wife Asma Bibi, notes the positive knock-on effects of the debt cancellation: "It is something that bears fruit for generations. I have been here working among the bricks for 5 years, but I know many families who have worked there for generations precisely because they can never pay off their debt. For those who are poor there is no dignity and respect, and if a poor person has a debt, this makes them even more vulnerable. I worked in the brick factory even during my pregnancy, because we were forced to work: raising three children and working on bricks is not an easy task. Since we are poor, we cannot send even one of our children to school: we can barely by what’s necessary, how could we cover school costs?

Here at the factory every family has a pitiful story and the situation of the women is even worse. We felt like we were dying every day seeing our children getting poorer and their future conditioned to work in the brick factory. No father or mother would like to see their children as slaves. We did our best to repay the debt, but the rainy season, the winter and the pandemic forced the factory to close. If a family borrows from the brick factory owner, that family can only pay off the debt if a miracle happens. Yes, miracles happen! Today I am witness to a miracle! Thanks to all those who helped us to regain our freedom!”.

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