Forced Labour

Prohibition on Forced and Compulsory Labour

The Constitution of Pakistan contains provisions for the economic and social well-being of the people and for the promotion of social justice. Fundamental rights with regard to the security of life or liberty, prohibition of slavery and forced labour, and the right to form associations or unions, among others, are enshrined in the Constitution. The pre-partition (before independence of Pakistan in 1947) law to control forced labour by children was Children (Pledging of Labour) Act, 1933, which aimed to prohibit the making of agreements to pledge the labour of children, and the employment of children whose labour was pledged by parents or guardians. While in the post-partition era, Article 3 & 11 of the Constitution of Pakistan guarantee the abolition of bonded labour and require the state to gradually eliminate all forms of exploitation. Article 11 declares that slavery is non-existent and forbidden and no law can be made to permit or facilitate its introduction in Pakistan in any form. All forms of forced labour are prohibited. The only exceptions allowed are compulsory labour as part of punishment ordered by a Court of law or works required by a law for public purpose but this too is subject to the condition that no compulsory service shall be of a cruel nature or incompatible with human dignity.

Bonded labour is also covered by Article 3 of the Constitution, which says “The State shall ensure the elimination of all forms of exploitation and the gradual fulfillment of the fundamental principle, from each according to his ability to each according to his work.” Since bonded labour admittedly amounts to exploitation and a bonded labourer has neither opportunities of working to his ability nor does receive remuneration according to the work performed, its eradication is regarded as constitutional obligation.

Bonded labour is barred under Article 14 of the Constitution (which prohibits violation of the dignity of man and torture), Article 15 (freedom of movement and residence,), and Article 37 (e) (the State’s obligation to make provision for securing just and humane conditions of work). Keeping a person under bonded labor is to deprive him/her of the fundamental freedoms like freedom of movement (Article 15), freedom of assembly (Article 16), freedom of association (Article 17), freedom of profession (Article 18), freedom of speech (Article 19) and the right to be equal citizen (Article 25). These constitutional provisions have been given effect by enacting various laws. Following laws give effect to the Constitutional provisions on bonded labour: 

Legislation on Bonded/Forced Labour

  1. Children (Pledging of Labour) Act, 1933
  2. Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1992 (applicable to ICT and Balochistan)
  3. Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1992 (adopted by Punjab in 2012)
  4. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 2015
  5. Sindh Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 2015
  6. Punjab Prohibition of Child Labour at Brick Kilns Act, 2016
  7. Prevention and Control of Human Trafficking Ordinance, 2002
  8. The Punjab Tenancy Act, 1887
  9. The Sindh Tenancy Act, 1950
  10. The NWFP Tenancy Act, 1950
  11. The Baluchistan Tenancy Ordinance, 1979
  12. Pakistan Penal Code 1860

Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1992 abolishes bonded labour and targets customary arrangements that lead to bonded labour. It also ends any debts that existed which led to individuals being forced into labour to pay off the debt. The other specific laws, which deal with forced labour, include Prevention and Control of Human Trafficking Ordinance, 2002 (to curb economic and sexual exploitation) and Pakistan Penal Code, 1860 (to suppress economic and sexual exploitation).

The Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act provides for the abolition of bonded labour system in the country. The practice of bonded labour is a punishable offence after enactment of this act (with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than two years nor more than five years, or with fine which shall not be less than fifty thousand rupees, or with both). Similar provisions are found in the newly enacted legislation of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh. Vigilance Committees are formed at the district level to keep an eye on the working of law and help in rehabilitation of freed bonded labour.

In accordance with the Prevention and Control of Human Trafficking Ordinance 2002, if a person knowingly plans or indulges in human trafficking in and out of Pakistan for the purpose of attaining any benefit, or for the purpose of exploitative entertainment, slavery or forced labour or adoption in or out of Pakistan, he/she shall be punishable with imprisonment which may extend to seven years and shall also be liable to fine.

Pakistan Penal Code also has provisions regarding forced or bonded labor/slavery. Section 370 of the Penal Code prohibits from buying or disposing of any person as a slave. A person, who imports, exports, buys, sells or disposes of a person as a slave or receives or detains someone, as a slave shall be punishable for a term of at most 7 years and a fine.  Section 371 of PPC recommends the punishment of imprisonment of at most 10 years in length and fine for a person who habitually deals with slaves (as an occupation). In accordance with section 374 of the Penal Code, whoever compels a person to compulsory labor (forced labor), without his own intent, shall be punished with an imprisonment of at most 5 years, or fine or both.

The institutional framework exists at the provincial level to implement the provisions of conventions and recommendations. There are provincial labour departments, Provincial Police and Home department, Ministry of Interior (at federal level) and its attached departments including Federal Investigation Agency. 

Freedom to Change Jobs and Right to Quit

In accordance with the Article 18 of the Constitution of Pakistan, "every citizen shall have the right to enter upon any lawful profession or occupation, and to conduct any lawful trade or business". Thus, workers are free to choose their occupation and leave their employment as and when they desire after fulfilling necesasry procedure. Workers have the right to change jobs after serving due notice on their employer.(S.O. 12 of Standing Orders Ordinance, 1968). Similar provisions are found in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh legislation on the subject.

Fore more information on this, please refer to the section on employment security. 

Inhumane Working Conditions

Normal working hours in Pakistan are 48 hours a week. The overtime hours from 24 hours a week (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa), 12 hours a week/624 hours a year (Balochistan, ICT and Punjab) and 150 hours a year (Sindh). In most of the cases, the maximum working hours inclusive of overtime hours exceed 56 hours per week threshold.