By Michael Ireland, Senior Reporter, ASSIST News Service
(ANS – SAMUNDRI, PAKISTAN, Jan.21, 2015) — Village officials in Chak No. 216 GB, Samundri, in the Punjab province of Pakistan, demolished the homes of 13 Christian families in early December after they refused to serve as bonded laborers at a brick kiln, reports Barnabas Aid (www.barnabasfund.org) .
Barnabas Aid says the Muslim owners of the brick kiln succeeded in pressuring municipal administrators into destroying the family homes on the pretext that the land was needed to build a new village hospital.
All of the Christian families living in the village were forced to live in a separate area away from the Muslim residents. While the village is Muslim-majority, there are around 72 Christian families who live there. Professor Anjum James Paul, chairman of the Pakistan Minorities Teachers Association, has condemned the incident, reminding government officials of their constitutional duty to provide shelter to all citizens, especially now that these Christian families are without homes in the cold winter.
According to the Professor, Pakistani Christians are unable to receive a fair hearing from their members of parliament as politicians will inevitably favor their Muslim-majority community members. Since 2002, the 10 seats reserved for non-Muslim representatives are filled by delegates selected by the majority parties, making it impossible for Christians to choose their Christian representatives. Previously, Christians could vote only for representatives of the seats assigned for non-Muslim minorities, with no say over the majority parties. Although the previous system was generally held to be unfair to religious minorities, the 2002 reform has not brought any improvements to the electoral process for Christians.
According to the Centre for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS) most bonded laborers in Pakistan work in the brick kiln industry. Impoverished families who require urgent finances in family crises, “effectively hand their lives over to the employer in order to repay the loan in labor.” They are then unable to leave the brick kiln until the entire debt has been repaid; this is almost impossible for them to achieve with the low wages that they earn. Owners may sell their laborers to other factory owners. Despite the fact that bonded labor was declared unconstitutional in 1989, persistent injustice and lack of political will has meant that there are currently at least 1.8 million bonded laborers in Pakistan, many of them Christians.
Bonded labor often involves the whole family, with an estimated 75 per cent of Pakistan’s bonded laborers known to be children, and debts are passed from generation to generation. Living in basic housing without proper sanitation, laborers are compelled to work long hours each day in return for a miserable wage, and are often the victims of violence and sexual assault.