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Bonded Labour

What is Bonded Labour?

The Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act defines the `Bonded Labour System’ as a system of forced, or partly forced, labour under which a debtor enters, or is presumed to have entered into an agreement with the creditor to the effect that:

  • In consideration of an advance (peshgi) obtained by him or by any of the members of his family (whether or not such advance (Peshgi) is evidenced by any document) and in consideration of the interest, if any, due on such advance (Peshgi)
  • In pursuance of any customary or social obligation
  • For any economic consideration received by him or by any member of his family

Bonded Labourer Would

  • Render, by himself or through any member of his family, or any person dependent on him, labour or service to the creditor, or for the benefits of the creditor, for a specified period, or for an unspecified period, either without wages or for nominal wages
  • Forfeit the freedom of employment or adopting other means of livelihood for a specified period or for an unspecified period
  • Forfeit the right to move freely from place to place
  • Forfeit the right to appropriate or sell at market value any of his property or product of his labour or the Iabour of a member of his family or any person dependent on him
  • And includes the system of forced, or partly forced, labour under which a surety for a debtor enters, or has or is presumed to have, entered, into an agreement with the creditor to the effect that in the event of the failure of the debtor to repay the debt, he would render the bonded labour on behalf of the debtor

Issues: An Appraisal

Main issues relating to the system of bonded labour in the socio-economic context can be described as follows:

  • Loans and advances extended by creditors to ensure timely availability and supply of labour
  • Advance aim to keep the labour under control
  • Loans are never paid. Before any loan is realized, further amounts are advanced to meet further needs of workers. This chain continues indefinitely. Such an arrangement leads to unpayable debt and severe conditions of bondage
  • In the agriculture sector, a hari with low remuneration is the sole victim of the system
  • Mobility of the bonded labourers is restricted and so they cannot supplement their income by working elsewhere or doing a secondary job
  • Debts are transferred from generation to generation and the labourers can hardly get rid of the system. Landlords being influential persons find ways and means to defeat the purpose of the law
  • Relief Camps for bonded labour established by certain human rights activists as temporary arrangement in certain localities suffer from bad management and unhealthy sanitation conditions

Situation in Pakistan

The practice of debt bondage in Pakistan is commonly known as Peshgi system. Instead of just seeking wages in exchange for their work, poor workers take an advance from an employer, in money or in kind, under the obligation to work for that employer until their debt is paid off. The loan (peshgi) may be taken for many reasons. Sometimes workers are in desperate need of money or food; in other cases they see it as a form of protection against unemployment: the loan ties them to a particular employer, who is then perceived to have an obligation to continue employing them.
“Peshgi advances are often quite substantial, much more than can be repaid in just a few months. In extreme cases, debts are so great that they are inherited from one generation to another. In other cases the amount of money may be relatively small.- (From: Anti-Slavery)
Unfortunately no authentic survey has been carried out so far to estimate the number of bonded labourers in the country. Identification of bonded labour is a very complicated and difficult task because of its invisibility. It is often argued that the families which are considered to be in bonded labour are specialized in the relevant skill and they bargain advance payments with their employers. It is the family that demands advances in return of their services. This is the case where the whole family is involved in a particular type of work. In such a system, it becomes difficult to identify them as bonded labourers in the true sense of the terminology and reach them for their rehabilitation. However, there are unofficial and unconfirmed reports of existence of bonded labour practices, in one way or the other, in the agricultural sector in Sindh, mostly controlled by land lords; brick kilns and carpet weaving in Punjab; coal mines in Balochistan.

Implementation Status of Law

The Provincial Home Departments are basically responsible for the enforcement of the laws on bonded labour. The Act provides for the constitution of District Vigilance Committees to advise the District Administration on effective implementation of the law and to help in the rehabilitation of the freed-bonded labourers.
The Federal Government requires the Provincial Governments to send the implementation reports on the enforcement of the bonded labour law regularly. There are also reports of the release of bonded labourers in Sindh and Punjab through court orders due to the efforts of trade unions and human rights activists. But there has so far been no effort at the governmental level to rehabilitate freed bonded labourers.

Vigilance Committees

Under Section-15 of the Bonded Labour (System) Abolition Act, 1992  Vigilance Committees are required to be constituted at the District level for implementation of the provisions of the law. They are composite bodies headed by District Nazim with representatives from different cross sections of the society including elected representatives of the area, representatives of the district administration, Bar Associations, press, recognized social services and NGOs. The powers and functions of Vigilance Committees inter alia include:

  • To advise the district administration on matters relating to the effective implementation of the law and to ensure its implementation in a proper manner
  • To help in the rehabilitation of the freed bonded labourer
  • To keep an eye on the working of the law
  • To provide the bonded labourers such assistance as may be necessary to achieve the objectives of the law

Bonded Labour system (Abolition) Rules,1995 prescribe functions of Vigilance Committees, procedures for holding of meetings of Vigilance Committees and tenures of official and non-official members.
Rule 9 of Bonded Labour (System) Abolition Rules 1995 stipulates that a fund shall be established for the rehabilitation & welfare of freed bonded labourer. The  fund stands established with initial contribution of Rs. 100 million made by Pakistan Bait-ul-Mal and contributions have also been made by the provincial governments.
Although the law exists in the statue books since last decade but it’s enforcement has suffered from numerous administrative and legal snags. For effective enforcement of law, sensitization of implementing officials at all levels such as judicial training, institutional strengthening and (where necessary) law reforms, capacity building to ensure compliance with law, pro-activity at all  governmental levels and political will to grapple with the menace, are acutely required.

Legal Aid Service Unit (LASU)

Legal Aid Service Unit is established at Industrial Relations Institute (IRI) near chandni chowk Township Lahore for the legal assistance to those workers who are entangled in male / female bonded labour situation. The basic purpose of LASU is, to give free legal and moral assistance to male / female bonded labourers. LASU is paying full attention to complete the commitment of the Government of Punjab to eliminate the bonded labour. The establishment of LASU is being made under Bonded Labour Fund Government of Pakistan as the male / female bonded labourer approaches to LASU for the assistance or other problem through, Toll Free Help Line No. 0800-33888 or an application, Law Officer of LASU reaches at the spot along with the concerned DOL and record the statement of the complainant and helps the worker morally as well as legally. LASU plays its role for the eradication of male / female bonded labour at district as well as provincial level.

How to Apply

The male / female bonded labourer / family may apply to LASU to get legal and moral help in the following manner.

  • You must tell your identity card no. during the call at Toll Free Help No. 0800-33888 or you may send a simple application along with photocopy of NIC to the Secretary Labour or Director Labour Welfare Punjab. You must write your complete address and contact number (if any), so that an enquiry may be conducted at the spot and moral help may be provided to you.

Project on Elimination Of Bonded Labour in Brick Kilins (EBLIK)

The Labour Department, Government of Punjab through its Annual Development Programme has launched a project for the elimination of bonded labour in brick kilns in Lahore and Kasur districts. This is the first time in history of Pakistan that development funds have been allocated to address the grave issue of bonded labour and cater to the social and economic needs of vulnerable groups of population.

The brief data and progress of the project is given below:

Total Cost:  PKR.123.367 M
Duration: 72 months
Geographical area: Lahore and Kasur districts
Date of Completion: Jun 2014


  • 200 Non formal education schools will be established for approximately 7000 children and young person from brick kiln families
  • Facilitation of approx.13000 workers to acquire CNICs
  • Provision of PKR 40 million as microcredit in the form of small loans (to be rolled over for the project duration)
  • Veterinary Services
  • Enrollment in voter lists

Project Progress

Non Formal  Education (NFE) for Children of Families at Brick Kilns

  • 200 non formal schools are being established under the project where 7000 children form brick kilns will be enrolled. Sixty schools have already been established with the help of ILO and local NGOs

Veterinary Services

  • Veterinary assistant is visiting the fields twice a day in a week. He has visited 82 bricks and found different diseases in animals like buffalo, goats i.e fouten mouth pox, hemorrhegic septicemia, pneumonia and birds rani khat and flow

Provision of Micro Finance (PKR. 40 Million Interest Free Credit )

  • A fund has been established at a cost of PKR. 40 million to provide interest free small loans to the workers in brick kilns. So far approx. 32 million rupees have been disbursed to 702 workers