In 2016, the Sindh Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act was passed unanimously by the provincial assembly after the government pledged to free every worker from the obligation to tender bonded labour. However, six years later, there are still 1.7 million bonded labourers in Sindh including 700,000 children who are working in inhumane conditions. Usually, peasants or brick kiln workers are trapped in these agreements that begin with small loans but end up in generational bonded labour.
Resultantly, thousands of people across Sindh have been robbed of their livelihoods due to the government’s failure to implement the law effectively. Under the law, vigilance committees were to be established that would comprise elected representatives, representatives of the bar associations and other officials who would ensure the freedom of all labourers and rehabilitate freed labourers. The law also laid a penalty of imprisonment or fines or both on any individual who enforced bonded labour. Unfortunately, in most districts, the vigilance committees are lying defunct due to the absence of funds and resources and the failure of chairpersons to hold meetings and monitor the situation.
Mere lip service will not suffice anymore, the Sindh government must take concrete steps to end this abhorrent practice once and for all. Bonded labour has harmed generations of families and prevented many children in Sindh from seeking education to improve their prospects. Abject poverty, illiteracy and disease have become the fate of many across Sindh. Therefore, the Sindh government must form vigilance committees, monitor their activities and seek monthly progress reports to alleviate bribery and other forms of corruption. The labourers should be protected from coercion and harassment after being freed and must be assisted in transitioning back into mainstream society.