Date: September 21, 2016
By Michael Ireland, Senior Correspondent, ASSIST News Service (www.assistnews.net)
KASUR, PAKISTAN (ANS, Sept. 21, 2016) – Life in the brick kilns of Pakistan is extremely harsh. Laborers work extremely long hours, and are required to complete a quota of 1,000 bricks per day, for 500 rupees (£3.61GBP or $4.70USD).
This amount barely covers their daily living expenses, and the family soon discovers that the daily interest on the loan means they would never escape their slavery or that of their children who were also caught up in the same contract, according to a report from the British Pakistani Christian Association (www.
Children are obliged to initiate work from the age of 18 for this particular kiln-owner, however the family is fortunate as many kilns require employment from the age of 13. Rape can be common in brick kilns and many parents have been stressed about their daughter’s safety since her coming of age; they have also felt deep guilt that they had trapped her into such an abysmal fate.
BPCA says shifts at brick kilns start at 6 am and can finish at 6pm or later depending on when the quota is completed. Employees can be beaten for tardiness, though Razzak Masih and his family have always been very punctual so they have escaped this particular brutality.
Moreover, women only get paid half the salary of a man -- though in essence they do the same amount of labor, i.e. producing the 1,000 bricks per day. No health and safety checks, risk assessments, training, or manuals are provided to workers. When workers take time off due to ill health, they are fined for non-appearance and can be beaten at many kilns. Brick kiln owners do not pay the social security payments required for employees to receive state benefits, so when Christian slaves get sick they are forced to take further loans to pay for medical care, prolonging and extending their debt in perpetuity.
According to BPCA, a number of general laws are clearly ignored and contravened by brick kiln owners, including employment equality laws, health and safety laws, and laws against torture and imprisonment. However, to the chagrin of all humanitarian NGO's working in Pakistan, the country has actually established anti-slavery laws, which have little or no enforcement and, as such, lack any impetus.
BPCA says an estimated 7 percent of Christians attain an adequate level of literacy, so as you can imagine when Razzak Masih signed his contract he had absolutely no idea of its contents. Razzak Masih was forced to sign the contract with a thumb print as he could not even spell his own name; his inability to read meant the value of the paperwork did not register, and they now have no copy of the original paperwork. The family had intended to pay the loan back as soon as possible, but due to a short deadline and financial difficulties that included a rapidly burgeoning interest rate, they were forced to take on work at the brick kiln owned by the lender. Razzak Masih told BPCA that daily visits by numerous frighteningly large men seeking the outstanding loan, contributed to their decision to give up their freedom.
Razzak Masih, who is 48 years old, and his family have been working as Christian slaves in brick kilns for the last five years. They inadvertently contracted themselves into a slave worker arrangement, when they had to borrow 50,000 rupees (£361.30) to pay for the marriage of their eldest daughter Rukhsana.
BPCA says that a friend suggested they take a loan from a local man who was a landlord of some nearby fields, but what they did not realize at the time was the extent of the interest they would have to pay. Apparently, straight after signing the contract, their 50,000 rupee loan had become a debt of 150,000 rupees and was incurring daily charges.
Moreover, BPCA says that despite the fact Razzak was a council street sweeper at the time, a caveat within the contract required him to quit that job, and with his wife Rubina (age 43), was forced to start work at the brutal brick kilns of Kasur. When Masih left his former sweeper job, he gave up a pension and state benefits, which would have entitled him and his family to free healthcare.
Fortunately, only one of their children, their daughter Sumera, has been forced to work in the kilns. However, she has been forced into living with the family after the loan.
Razzak and Rubina have five children, Rukhsana (21 years), Sumera (18 years), Fayaz (16 years), Samina (14 years) and Haroon (12 years). Rukhsana is their married daughter, who has managed to escape the plight of her family, as she no longer resided with them at the time of their enslavement. Sumera and Fayaz had to leave education after primary school as their parents could not afford the school fees. They have been helping their parents -- without pay -- in the brick kilns. The youngest two were both attending school. Razzak spoke about his plight, describing the threat to the safety of his daughters, he said:
"Everyday I have been threatened and laughed at, my family too. We have been taking a lot of abuse from the brick kiln owners who tell us we are worthless and keep telling us how much we owe and how the amount keeps growing.
They kept offering to buy one of my daughters to reduce the loan, but I declined their offer. I have been very worried that something might happen to the girls and have prayed for a way out for so long, it has now been five years."
Razzak, contemplated killing himself, but could not face leaving his family behind, or missing out on the joy of heaven. often this was his only shred of hope. He said:
It is hard being a father but the pressure they put on me was unbearable, sometimes I just wanted to take my own life. But I knew that if I did God would not forgive me and I would never get to see my children in the peace of heaven. This earth is harsh but I will not give up the blessing of heaven to escape the pain."
BPCA lead officers in Pakistan, Mehwish Bhatti and Kanwal Amar, travelled to the meet with the family. The family knew they were going to be set free from their bonded labor compound only an hour before the BPCA team arrived. They had known for some time that an attempt to free them would be made, but the date was kept a secret until then for the safety of everyone.
When the rescue team arrived they were welcomed, and everyone shared warm embraces. This was a moment of great elation and excitement for the family who were now going to finally escape their brutal slavery.
Mehwish Bhatti said: “As we waited for darkness to fall outside, Razzak's family and our rescue team could feel our fear and anxiety increasing. No-one in that room had any previous experience in conducting an escape like this."
The group would have to avoid watchmen looking out for potential escapees 24 hours a day. The family was advised they could take nothing with them -- just some clothes and a few personal belongings. Moreover, everything in the house belonged to the brick kiln owner. At the appointed time, the group left the home as silently as possible and entered the BPCA hired vehicle. They had been praying for an hour, and felt God guiding their steps. They left the confines of the Christian slave compound, avoiding locations where watchmen were known to guard.
As the escape vehicle got past the boundary walls, a huge sigh of relief was given by all.
Kanwal Amar, said: "For as long as we could muster the strength, everyone praised God through worship songs, eventually we all fell asleep, as our travel to the city safe house was many hours away. When the family got to the home they were welcomed by an existing family who we helped escape a blasphemy allegation, and together we shared a time of praise and worship. We thanked God for bringing us through a very dangerous situation to a place of sanctuary -- it had been a terrifying moment for all of us -- but God was our strength and shield."
BPCA stated this escape was not a rushed decision. They had been planning and encouraging the family for over a month, detailing what they could take with them, what BPCA would provide, and how the group would protect them and restart their lives. Brick kiln workers have been so brutalized, the very thought of escaping seems like a pipe dream or simply impossible. By breaking down the process over a period of time, BPCA has been able to build victim confidence.
BPCA officers Kanwal Amar and Mehwish Bhatti have been counseling many of the brick kiln workers of Kasur, since the group built new brick homes for victims who lost mud homes in the floods of 2015. During that time, BPCA has held outreach events at which the group shared audio Bibles which have brought a much better understanding of their Christian faith to many illiterate and beleaguered Christians. Their understanding of God's unending and unconditional love has given the community great hope. It was this emboldened belief that caused this family to take courage and escape their dilemma. Many others have, since their escape, expressed a desire to leave and BPCA alsowishes to help them live their calling.
Since material for writing this article was put together, Razzak has already started working in a factory near the location of the BPA safe house. In another two months, after the group has helped Razzak build up his own deposit, BPA hopes to move them into their own rental property. The group says it will, of course, report on this and the family will continue to be supported through counseling, advice and anything else necessary to help them maintain their new lives.
BPA would like to thank Pastor Tariq who travels to Kasur to give pastoral care, communion and Christian teaching to Christians residing there. His support for the group has made its work in the area possible.
Please pray for an end to slavery in Pakistan and for Christians to be treated as equal citizens.
Please also consider signing the BPA petition (click here: http://www.petitionbuzz.com/
Photo Captions: 1) Razzak Masih working at a brick kiln (BPCA photo). 2) Samina and Haroon look much more healthy since emancipation (BPCA photo). 3) BPCA officers arrive in a rescue van (BPCA photo). 4) Michael Ireland.
About the Writer: Michael Ireland is a volunteer internet journalist serving as Senior Correspondent for the ASSIST News Service, as well as an Ordained Minister who has served with ASSIST Ministries and written for ASSIST News Service since its beginning in 1989. He has reported for ANS from Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Israel, Jordan, China, and Russia. Please consider helping Michael cover his expenses in bringing news of the Persecuted Church, by logging-on to: https://actintl.givingfuel.