Promoting the Elimination of Bonded Labour in Pakistan (PEBLIP)

Amongst the variations of forced labour, the most prevalent form that exists in Pakistan is debt bondage. Economic sectors with incidences of bonded labour are brick kilns, agriculture, domestic service, construction and others.

Pakistan, has ratified 36 conventions, including the two fundamental Conventions on Forced Labour (No. 29 and 105). A national legal and policy framework that protects and promotes the rights of bonded labourers has been in place since 1992. A National Policy and Plan of Action on Bonded Labour was formulated in 2001. The ILO has been providing technical assistance through the government, employers’ and workers’ organisations to implement the existing framework.

The ILO’s first support initiative was through a technical cooperation project on promoting the elimination of bonded labour in South Asia (PEBLISA) focused on institutional capacity development of stakeholders to respond to bonded labour issues through policies, programmes and effective law enforcement. This included the organisation of workers in, or vulnerable to, bonded labour and through the promotion of corporate social responsibility. For the first time in the history of development projects in Pakistan, a colony was established for the rehabilitation of bonded labour families in areas surrounding Hyderabad. Women received skills training in cot weaving, carpentry, knitting, container making and first aid training. Trainees were than referred to government health programmes for advanced internships and to nursing schools. Today, 85 per cent of the women beneficiaries are self employed and have access to improved income generating employment opportunities, 50 per cent of the 450 children who were enrolled in non formal education centers are now mainstreamed into formal schools and are enjoying medical care. Five hundred men and women have also benefitted through Employment Information Centres where they were referred for apprenticeships and employment in surrounding industries.

Owing to the success of PEBLISA in Hyderabad, the government, with ILO technical support, initiated a more focused programme to promote the elimination of bonded labour in Pakistan (PEBLIP). It was designed to address policy and capacity development concerns through both up and downstream interventions across the country. Major outcomes include increased budgetary allocations to programmes on the elimination of bonded labour by provincial governments. The Punjab Government, in its 2010-2011 Annual Development Programme has allocated PKR123 million extend relief and rehabilitation measures including education, adult literacy, skills training, health, micro finance, social security benefits, social protection and citizenship to workers of brick kilns in Punjab.

Over 1,800 children and 300 men and women have benefitted from non-formal education and adult literacy programmes. 70 families and more than 3,500 men, women, children, disabled, and elderly are being provided with health facilities and medical aid. Adults are also linked with NADRA for registration and the issuance of national identity cards (NCIC) for legal and social empowerment. Skills training and microfinance are also being extended to indebted families working at the brick kilns in Lahore and Kasur.

A stakeholders’ legal review of the Bonded Labour System Abolition Act 1992 has made a number of proposals to amend the bonded labour law regime which is being taken up by the Ministry of Labour and Manpower (MoLM).

Hundreds of persons have been freed through the National Coalition Against Bonded Labour (NCABL) and member NGOs/CSOs and trade unions through district session judges in Sindh. With ILO technical support the Pakistan Workers Federation (PWF) has provided legal aid to 20 bonded labour families and has additionally mobilized more than 1,000 workers and helped them to organize for the protection of their rights.

Labour Inspectors have been sensitized on gender equality and the concerns of women and other vulnerable workers and a resource kit is being used by practitioners. To create, maintain and share knowledge developed under the project toolkits and booklets that can be used as guidelines and references for implementing partners and service delivery providers have been made available.

In addition important resolutions have been submitted by two provincial assemblies for the design of interventions and national programmes to eliminate the practice of bonded labour at provincial and district levels. This has been a significant outcome of the sensitization programme of parliamentarians under PEBLIP.

A model Friday Sermon has also been developed on labour rights and international labour standards including bonded and child labour in the context of Islamic teachings. By engaging the media and law enforcement personnel, media awareness and coverage and prosecutions have increased.

The Employers’ Federation of Pakistan and Pakistan Workers’ Federation have played significant roles in initiating social dialogue processes among brick kiln owners, other employers and workers representatives. Model contracts for workers in the brick kiln sector have also been developed to prevent any form of exploitation. The same is being replicated for other economic sectors.

This initiative has demonstrated that a sustainable solution for the elimination of bonded labour in Pakistan can be achieved through dialogue, institutional capacity development and the empowerment workers complemented by fair regulatory frameworks and protection mechanisms.

For further information please contact:

Mr Mian Muhammad Benyameen
Project Manager