Bonded Labour in Pakistan

Bonded Labor (which is a special type of Forced Labor) exists mainly in Asian and agricultural societies. Actually this type of labour mostly crops up in cases where monetary/financial deals occur such as loans

What is Forced and Bonded Labor?

According to ILO, Forced labour is any type of work or kind of service in which someone engages involuntarily and under some implied coercion a manifest threat of a penalty or oppressive measure. Bonded Labor (which is a special type of Forced Labor) exists mainly in Asian and agricultural societies. Actually this type of labour mostly crops up in cases where monetary/financial deals occur such as loans, which if the debtor is unable to pay, he has to serve the creditor for some specified or unspecified term.

Bonded labor can exist in following forms under different situations.

  1. Bonded labor in exchange of advance/ an amount of money given before services are rendered (peshgi), received by a person or his family,
  2. Bonded labor as a consequence of some social or customary obligation,
  3. Bonded labor in exchange of an economic benefit/consideration received by a person or his family,
  4. Bonded labor of a Guarantor in exchange for debtor who was unable to pay off his debt
  5. Bonded labor is prevalent in agriculture sector, brick kilns, domestic work and begging.

How do we know whether some practice is bonded/forced labor or not?

Here are the indicators to determine whether some work is forced/bonded labor or not.

Whether his conditions of work are similar to that of other workers in the country. These include:

  1. Wage rates….whether his wages are equal to minimum wage or wages that are normally paid to that class of workers. If he is being paid lower wages (or wages lower than the amount negotiated or finalized earlier), he is in the conditions of bondedness. Moreover, if employer is making undue deductions from wages, he is also creating system of bondedness.
  2. Whether wages are directly paid to the worker or some other person is taking his/her wages?
  3. Whether daily working hours are in accordance with the provisions of the law (i.e. 8 hours per day, 48 hours per week) and whether he has the right to chose overtime work. If employer is requiring him/her to overtime work more than what is provided in the law, he is treating this worker as a bonded laborer.
  4. Freedom of employment/movement….whether this person can leave his/her work (after giving notice) and move to some other place to start new work.
  5. Freedom of business….whether this person can sell his/his family’s produce in the market
  6. Whether this person is working under “peshgi” or “bonded loan” as “peshgi” itself has no problem unless it creates bondage (bondedness). Workers usually take advances from their employers but not all advances lead to bondedness.
  7. Whether the worker keeps his identity documents with himself or his employer keeps these in his own custody (these can include passports, Identity Cards, Educational Degrees, Domicile etc)

What are the Provisions in Pakistani Laws regarding Bonded Labor?

Bonded labor system is actually used to exploit the needs of poor people who have to borrow money from their landlords, in return for that they have to forgo their fundamental freedoms. Article 3 of Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan requires the State to ensure that all forms of exploitation are eliminated and that it should work for gradual fulfillment of fundamental principle; from each according to his ability and to each according to his work. By keeping a person under Bonded labor is to deprive him/her of 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-A).

Article 11 of the Constitution deals specifically with forced labor. It says:

“Slavery is non-existent and forbidden and no law shall permit or facilitate its introduction into Pakistan in any form. All forms of forced labour and traffic in human beings are prohibited”.

Other than these constitutional provisions on bonded labor, government of Pakistan has enacted a special law for eradication and abolition of bonded labor in the country.

  1. Bonded Labor System (Abolition) Act, 1992
  2. Bonded Labor System (Abolition) Rules, 1995

In accordance with section 4 of this act, bonded labor system stands is abolished in the country with commencement of this act and the bonded laborers are set free from that day and are not under obligation to serve the creditor. Moreover, all agreements or even tradition/custom/practice of bonded labor is void and any liability to pay debt is extinguished from the commencement of this act. No suit can be filed for recovery of this debt and every order issued before commencement of this act (in 1992) for recovery of bonded debt is void. This act also requires the restoration of property of a bonded labor, which was forcibly taken by the creditor for recovery of his debt. This law requires the creditor not to accept any payment against any bonded debt.

How this act is implemented?

The Provincial Governments can empower and impose duties on District Magistrates to ensure smooth implementation of this law (section 9).

Section 15 of the Act also requires Provincial Governments to set up Vigilance Committees at the District level. A Vigilance Committee is comprised of:

  1. Elected representatives of the area (MNA, MPA, Nazim etc.)
  2. Representatives of District Administration (Police, judiciary, DCO, Agriculture, Health, labour)
  3. Bar associations
  4. Press
  5. Social Partners (Employees, Employers, NGOs)
  6. Social Services
  7. Labor Departments (Federal and Provincial)

Under this act, these are the functions of Vigilance Committees:

  1. Advising the District Administration on effective implementation of the Act
  2. Help in the rehabilitation of released and freed bonded labor
  3. Keep an eye on the working of the law
  4. Provide the bonded laborers such assistance as may be necessary to achieve the objective of the law
  5. Establishment of a complaint office (described below)
  6. Require the employer to provide information or any documents to perform its functions

The Government has also created a Bonded Labor System (Abolition) Fund which finances projects meant for training of the released bonded laborers. Further, this fund provides legal and financial assistance to the bonded laborers and family members.

The Governments of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has also established Legal Aid Service Units (LASU) under above-mentioned Fund to legally assist bonded laborers. If you (or someone you know) are working under conditions of bondedness and forced labor, please call at this Toll-Free Help Line 0800-33888 or send an application to the Secretary Labor, Punjab along with your CNIC

What if an employer violates the provisions of the Act?

According to this law, whoever compels another person for bonded/forced labor (as described above), shall be punished with imprisonment for a term of at least 2 and maximum 5 years, or fine of at least PKR 50,000 or with both. Of the received fine, payment to the bonded labor has to be made at the rate of at least PKR 50 per day for each day of bonded labor. It must be emphasized here that minimum wage daily rate has to be taken as a standard for compensating the worker in the backdrop that when this act was promulgated, minimum wage was PKR 1500. As minimum wage has risen to PKR7, 000, so compensation should be at least PKR 230.

Pakistan Penal Code has also provisions regarding forced or bonded labor/slavery. Section 370 of the 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 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 (adopted dealing in slaves as his occupation). In accordance with section 374 of the 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.

Similar provisions are made in Prevention and Control of Human Trafficking Ordinance, 2002 in its section 3 that 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 shall be punishable with imprisonment which may extend to seven years and shall also be liable to fine

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Are you getting minimum wage and overtime rates as notified by the Government?  You can now inform us about the minimum wage violations at your workplace by submitting a complaint form. With your information, Workers Employers Bilateral Council of Pakistan (WEBCOP) and Wage Indicator Pakistan will sort out the matter between you (trade union, workers) and the Employer. Complaint forms are available in PDF and online version.

You can also send us your compliant form on the following address:
Workers Employers Bilateral Council of Pakistan,
A-198, Block-13, Behind Jofa Towers,
Gulshan-e-Iqbal, Off Main University Road, Karachi