LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Religious minorities in Muslim-majority Pakistan are disproportionately made into modern day slaves, according to a new report issued by a group of UK parliamentarians.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Pakistani Minorities issued “Exploitation of Bonded Brick Kiln Laborers in Pakistan: The Unseen Modern-Day Slavery” on Wednesday.

The study showed religious minorities in particular are victims of bonded laborer system.

“According to the most recent national census, religious minorities constitute 5 percent of Pakistan’s population. The percentage of religious minorities in brick kilns is often as high as 50 percent, especially in Punjab and Sindh, the two provinces predominantly occupied by religious minorities,” the report says.

According to Aid to the Church in Need’s most recent Religious Freedom in the World report, Christians account for just 1.9 per cent of the population of Pakistan.

Kiln technology is one of the oldest in human history, and is used to produces temperatures sufficient to make pottery, tiles and bricks.

The work is tedious and dangerous, and historically has been done by indentured laborers.

Anti-Slavery International says in Pakistan, the majority of marginalized and excluded groups, such as Scheduled Caste Hindus, Christians and Muslim Sheikhs, are unskilled workers and work in the informal sector, particularly in agriculture and brickmaking.

The charity says there is no mechanism in the South Asian country that ensures a minimum wage, resulting in an incidence of child labor and bonded labor.

The new report from the APPG for Pakistani Minorities says the majority of studies agree that the main reasons for slavery to persist in Pakistan are the lack of implementation of existing laws by the State, corruption by officials at different levels, and grinding poverty.

“However, it can also be argued that the lack of will to enforce respective laws is rooted in the cultural attitudes towards low caste and non-Muslim members of society,” the report says.

The co-chair of the APPG, Lord David Alton, said the parliamentarians felt under an obligation to delve deeper and to shed light on the often-hidden slavery in the kiln industry, “which has destroyed the lives of countless hundreds of thousands of people.”

“To its credit, Pakistan has passed legislation to outlaw bonded labor – another word for slavery – but the implementation of this legislation has proved to be singularly difficult,” he said.

“This 21st-century slavery has made Pakistan’s brick kiln owners into rich men. Their wealth has been accumulated on the broken backs of millions of the poorest and helpless laborers who have paid a high price in human misery. This is a terrible blot on the name of Pakistan,” Alton continued.

“Based on the evidence collected by the specially established ad-hoc inquiry, the APPG has concluded that this grave issue requires urgent attention from governments and policymakers. For some of the poorest and most vulnerable members of society, this is their lived reality and a matter of life and death. We have offered several recommendations which, if implemented, could transform the lives of countless thousands,” he added.

The Inquiry concluded that the treatment of bonded laborers at brick kilns is an ongoing issue that continues to be neglected and is a serious concern, especially for already marginalized and vulnerable communities in Pakistan, such as religious minority communities.

“Although the Government of Pakistan has passed legislation to outlaw this practice, the implementation of the law is non-existent,” the report says.

Aid to the Church in Need UK submitted evidence showing the severity of the abuse faced by brick kilns workers.

“Those trapped within the brick kilns are often subjected to the worst forms of physical and psychological abuse, with their most basic rights denied,” the charity said. “The kiln owners regularly abuse the female workers, keeping them physically tied down in their homes as prisoners. They are not allowed to leave and are required to do manual labor around the home.”

The Inquiry recommended a series of actions which could be adopted to provide relief to victims and end the practice altogether.

It called on the UK government to use its aid budget for greater scrutiny and monitoring of Pakistan’s compliance with the International Labor Organization (ILO) requirements on the prevention of slave labor, child rights, women’s rights, and minority rights – this would include making regular, unannounced inspection visits to the 20,000 brick kilns, and document any issues of child labor or bonded labor.

The Inquiry called on the UK government to provide comprehensive advice to businesses in relation to the high risk of modern-day slavery in brick kilns in Pakistan, introduce a rebuttable presumption that all brick kilns are tainted in modern-day slavery until proven otherwise, and require all UK-funded projects to ensure that they purchase from certified brick kilns only.

The parliamentarians also asked the Pakistan government to issue a report on the number of brick kilns visited by inspectors, a summary of the violations of the Bonded Labor and Child Labor law, and convictions obtained in the prior 12 months.

They also called on Pakistan to confiscate the assets of all those who benefited from bonded labor and repurpose those assets to create a national trust fund to support victims, including funding the education of children from the families of bonded labor.

Alton said anyone who reads the APPG document on the modern slavery in the kiln industry will be able to say they “did not know.”

“As it became very clear from the evidence received by the Inquiry, it isn’t just brick kiln workers who are exploited and violated,” the British lord said.

“Women laborers in the world’s fourth largest cotton producer pick most of Pakistan’s cotton. Their plight requires urgent action by the authorities, too,” he added.

“Among the evidence, the most shocking of all are the stories of young children – born into a life of slavery, destitution and abject misery. They should be in schools, not servitude. For too long a blind eye has been turned to owners who treat employees as subhumans – a throwback to the degrading inhumanity of the caste system and ‘untouchability’,” Alton said.

“Debt bondage is not only a stain on a great nation’s reputation, it is an assault on human dignity and human rights, it enslaves men, women and children,” he said.

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