03/03/2021, 17.02
PAKISTAN
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‘You have set us free from slavery,’ say unemployed workers indebted to kiln owners

by Shafique Khokhar

Thanks to the generosity of some AsiaNews readers, 52 families were helped to pay off their debt to kiln owners who had forced them to work as slaves. Now their children can go to school and are no longer forced to pay for their parents' debt. Some of them told their stories.

 

Faisalabad (AsiaNews) – “You have set us free from slavery. Thank you, really!” said Boota Masih, an unemployed brick worker in Kamalpur.

His tears and sobs express his gratitude to AsiaNews and its associates, who paid off the debt that tied him and other six families to the kiln factor owner who had forced them to work for him for years.

Everyone in these families had to work, even the children, who were thus unable to go to school. The idea of paying off their debt came from some AsiaNews readers, after they read about their situation.

“Now I can think of going back to my village with my family and do some other work,” said Boota Masih. “Working in the brick factory was very hard for me and even harder for my wife. I'd been working there for the last 10 years.

“I only have a three-year-old son, but we couldn't give him much care because my wife and I had to work all the time to pay our debt in order to send our son to school. But unfortunately we could not repay even 1,000 rupees; indeed, during this COVID crisis (with the factory closed), we had to take on even more debt.

“Now thanks to you, I have repaid the debt of 125,000 rupees (US$ 800), and I will be able to work so that my son has a brighter future. I'm really full of joy and happiness today. Now I'm going to go home and kiss my son and say: ‘Now you're free! Now you're free!’”

AsiaNews launched its campaign before Christmas with a pledge to donate food and winter clothing to members of 52 families working in kilns. Due to the winter and COVID-19, factories closed and people have not received wages for months.

Poverty has driven them to borrow from their employers, making them slaves to this type of work – considered among the lowest in the country – for generations.

After the first donations in December and January, some readers said they were willing to cover all the debt the 52 families had with their employers. Thanks to their generosity, two days ago the debt was paid off for the first seven families.

Fr Waseem Walter, parish priest in Kamalpur, is helping out. “Today I witness a great thing. Thanks to AsiaNews, its associates and readers, you are making a really great gift. Until now, I'd seen someone or some organisation paying off the debt of kiln workers. But they only freed two or three of them. Instead, you are doing something 'historic', paying off the debt of 52 families.”

“All those who got involved in this work are to be congratulated. These families are now free; they will be able to change jobs; they can go somewhere else... But above all, they will have the opportunity to send their children to school, to receive an education so that they will not be forced to work and be slaves in kilns. These families and I are really happy and moved. Thank all of you who set them free.”

Liaquat Masih's debt was also paid off today. He used to work in a kiln for more than 10 years, along with his three daughters, who are also worked in bricks after Liaquat got ill and was unable to work alone.

“We had a debt of 90,000 rupees (US$ 570). We worked hard, but we couldn't send our daughters to school. Now that the debt is paid, we can send them to school so they have an education that will brighten their future.

“Now that our debt has been paid, they will give us a full wage and I am sure my family will be able to thrive. Thank you all very much. Hallelujah!”

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