Earlier this month, the Washington Post ran a piece on the terrible working conditions of kiln workers in Pakistan. People spend their entire lives under grueling labor and breathing toxic fumes. Entire families are indebted to the kiln owners, and the pay is so low that they have little opportunity of ever repaying their debts. If they move to work at another kiln, their debt follows them. If they try to escape their life of virtual serfdom, they are chased down.The article interviewed a kiln worked named Abdul Wakil, who explained, “The problem is that you can never earn enough to leave. If your wife needs an operation or the rainy seasons lasts too long, you have to borrow from the kiln owners… the debt stays with you, sometimes for your whole life.”
Even children are pulled into this system of bondage through debt. As young as six, kids are taken out of school to help work on the kiln. Wakil’s son, age 7, is already rolling up mud balls for his father. The article describes the life of Zarfran Khan, “a bright-eyed, 8-year-old quarry boy.” “I liked school,” he says, “but I don’t go there anymore.”
Born into a life of perpetual debt, these kids never have the option of an education or of trainings in other skills. Knowing only the life of a kiln worker, they end up starting their own families in the same dangerous places, and the cycle repeats itself.
The National Consumers League established the Child Labor Coalition (CLC) in 1989 to end the exploitation of children in the workplace. It is a top priority for us to spread awareness of the child exploitation in workplaces around the world. NCL and the American Federation of Teachers currently co-chair the CLC.
Progress is being made on child labor rights in the region, as earlier this week the Dehli High Court in India asked the government to start action to eliminate child labor from the state of Delhi in six months. This is an important step to end child labor exploitation, and we think that this could end up being a model for other state and national governments in the region. We hope that the Pakistani government can place a higher priority on ending child labor exploitation, so that kids like Zarfran will be able to get an education and escape their lives of perpetual poverty.