“Wherever men and women are condemned to live in extreme poverty, human rights are violated. To come together to ensure that these rights be respected is our solemn duty.” – Joseph Wresinski (1917–1988) founder of ATD Fourth World
Since 1993, the 17th of October is celebrated as a Poverty Alleviation Day throughout the world. Historically, more than 100,000 people gathered at Paris, France, to honor the victims of extreme poverty, violence and hunger. Since that moment, individuals and organizations worldwide observe October 17th as a day to renew their commitment in collaborating towards eradicating poverty. according to Economic Survey of Pakistan 2013-14, Pakistan is one of those developing countries whose half of the population lives below the poverty line i.e. 1.25$ per day. Since independence, poverty in Pakistan has always been a matter of great attention. Although there have remained a number of reforms and policies introduced by various governments, but unfortunately, the implementation of these policies fell victim of politicking among governments, leaving behind country with the menace of poverty.
There are several reasons for the poverty in Pakistan, for example, gender discrimination, economic and social vulnerability, politicking, environmental changes, lack of governance, lack of industries, lack of education etc. AS compared to cities, the villages are bigger victims of poverty, mainly due to the influence of feudal lords who don’t let the people grow economically and force them into bonded labor. One prominent example is of Brick kilns, in which poor people along with their entire families are forced to work in Brick kilns and achieve unreasonable targets such as 2,000 bricks per day for Rs. 600 by the Kiln owners to repay the amount of heavy debts and eventually, become their slaves. According to registration data compiled by the directorate of labor welfare, Punjab, and Bonded Labor Liberation Front Pakistan (BLLFP), there are more than 10,000 brick kilns operating in Punjab, where 2.3 million brick kiln labors are operating as of 2014. Out of these kilns nearly half of the workers were registered. The remaining half have not been registered due to various reasons including incomplete information or temporary closure of the work at the kiln. “Fifty percent [of] brick kiln laborers don’t have their National Identity Card (NIC)” said Syeda Ghulam Fatima, General Secretary (BLLFP). Although, the government has registered few Brick Kinls, but almst 50% of the Kilns remain unregistered and the owners unaccountable and free.
Hence, Under these circumstances, the role of NGOs being played in eliminating such bonded labor must not go in vain. One bright example is Seed Out, a non-profit organization that has been active sicne 2011 to root out poverty by launching various projects. On the day of International Poverty Alleviation Day, it is introducing “Interest Free Entrepreneurship for Bonded Labor” like brick kiln workers in Gujranwala. This project has been devised with the collaboration of the Government of Punjab with the people of brick kilns. The “Interest Free Entrepreneurship Program” would help the bonded labors to free themselves from the slavery of the Kiln owners, and earn their own living in a dignified manner. The Socio-Economic impact of this project would be enormous as Seed Out does not only intend to free the labors from slavery but also raise their socio-economic status, find opportunities to educate their children, discourage slavery, illiteracy and crime, contribute in society and end bonded labor. The labors would not need to pay any kind of interest from the income and live as a free human being. The step taken by the Government of Punjab and Seed Out is welcomed by the every section of society. Pakistan needs to get rid of bonded labor if it really wants to get rid of poverty. However, it is encouraging to note that Seed Out has taken a step in the right direction that would drastically reduce the bonded labors and let them live a life of integrity and self esteem.
Ms. Khadeejah Jawed