Bonded Labor in Pakistan


The UN Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery (1956) defines bonded labor as the: “status or condition arising from a pledge by a debtor of his services or those of a person under his control as security for a debt, if the value of those services as reasonably assessed is not applied towards the liquidation of the debt or the length and nature of those services are not respectively limited and defined”.


Pakistan has ratified the ILO Conventions 29 and 105 regarding forced labour and its abolition and also passed legislation in 1992, the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act. The National Policy and Plan of Action for the Abolition of Bonded Labour and Rehabilitation of Freed Bonded Labourers (2001) is another instrument meant to address the problems of bonded labourers. Despite these measures, the situation of bonded labourers remains one of the most pressing issue in the country.

Bonded Labor is a practice in which employers give high-interest loans to workers in exchange for long-term services and labor.  Bonded labor, deeply rooted in the exploitative feudal system, has been further exacerbated by the debilitating economic situation in Pakistan that has pushed countless people below the poverty line. From taking loans for marriages and medical assistance to simply surviving and feeding themselves, individuals not only pledge themselves but their entire families into bonded labor. Illiteracy has played its part in worsening the situation as poor people are tricked into taking loans that are impossible to pay off in the given time frame, therefore, are passed on down in the family. High interest rates, low wages, and the employers’ negligent attitude toward laborers are just some of the reasons a loan is impossible to pay off. In the majority of the cases, the employer tampers with the loan records and coerces the laborer to work indefinitely or face the consequences. The debt accumulated is passed down from generation to generation thereby creating an irreversible cycle of servitude.


Bonded Child labor in Pakistan:


Bonded labor is also a result of the peshgi system where a family member takes advance payment from an employer and in return pledges the families to work until the loan is paid off.

Poverty and the existence of people prepared to exploit the desperation of others are at the heart of debt bondage. Without land or the benefits of education, the need for money for daily survival forces people to sell their labor in exchange for a lump sum or loan. Caste, discrimination along ethnic, religious, gender lines, and continuing feudal agricultural relationships are also key to the existence of bonded labor and in allowing it to thrive.Debt bondage is increasingly linked with the trafficking for labor exploitation. Rural poverty, coupled with population growth and rapid urbanization, leads to bonded labor.


Prevalence of Bonded Labor:


The Global Slavery Index Report 2018 placed Pakistan on the list, estimating the number to be at 3.1 million and the provinces of Punjab and Sindh are hotspots, here bonded labor is mainly found in the brick kilns, agriculture and carpet weaving industries. There are no official statistics are available on bonded labor in the country, it was estimated that only in brick kilns around 4.5 million people are working across the country.

Some of these families reportedly came from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Burma. There is still a lack of official figures to determine families who are working as bonded labor. The United Nations estimates that there are over millions enslaved as bonded laborers in Pakistan.


In Pakistan, bonded labor has long been a feature in brick kilns, carpet industries, agriculture, fisheries, stone/brick crushing, shoe-making, power looms, and refuse sorting.

Detailed below is the situation of bonded laborers in some of the aforementioned industries in various provinces across Pakistan.


Brick Kilns

The brick kiln industry is rampant with cases of bonded labor especially in the provinces of Punjab and Sindh. More than half a million men, women, and children work in brick kilns around Pakistan.

Bonded laborers are employed in various processes like brick making, kiln stacking, unloading, and baking bricks. A majority of women and children work in the process of making unbaked bricks yet are not compensated for their labor, but acknowledged as labor when made to inherit debts. Wages are based on piece rates i.e. the number of bricks made per day but the amount is so minimal that a laborer has barely enough to feed his family, let alone pay off a debt. 


The agriculture sector of Pakistan accounts for almost 24% of the National Gross Domestic Product and employs over 36% of Pakistan’s labor force. Though it contributes nearly a quarter of the GDP, the agriculture sector has been highly unproductive given the scale of bonded labor employed especially in the provinces of Punjab and Sindh. One of the main reasons bonded labor is most prevalent in these provinces is the feudalistic culture dating as far back as the Mughal era. A lack of political will, weak administration, and corrupt officials from ‘zamindars’ to members of Parliament are responsible for exploiting and forcing the underprivileged class into bonded labor.

In the affluent estates east of Hyderabad in Sindh in southeast Pakistan, there are estimates that between 40,000 to 50,000 agricultural workers are in debt bondage. According to another research carried out by the Government of Sindh and the Asian Development Bank, there are some 1.7 million landless agriculture workers and sharecroppers in five districts of Sindh (Thatta, Dadu, Badin, Mirpurkhas, and Umerkot).  The magnitude of debt bondage in the agriculture sector is evident from the aforementioned figures.

National laws


Employment of Children Act, 1991
The Bonded Labour System Abolition Act, 1992


Provincial Laws:


Punjab Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1992
Punjab Bonded Labour System (Abolition) (Amendment) Act, 2018 amends the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act
Punjab Prohibition of Child Labour at Brick Kilns Ordinance, 2016
Sindh Bonded Labour (Abolition) Act 2015
Sindh Prohibition of Employment of Children Act 2017,
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 2015


SPARC’s Work:

In November 2004, NCABL (National Coalition Against Bonded Labour) was formed. The Coalition was open to civil society organizations as well as individuals. In April 2007, the SPARC became the secretariat of NCABL.

Being secretariat SPARC organized trainings of media personnel, members of civil society including members of National Coalition Against Bonded Labour (NCABL). The capacity of police, judicial officers as well as labor inspectors/officers were enhanced through trainings and orientations dealing with bonded labor laws. As a result, in Sindh, Sindh Minister for Labour issued directives to the Labour Department to conduct in-house training and take SPARC on board.

SPARC’s efforts in elimination of bonded labor:

Due to the efforts of SPARC, 133 new brick kilns were registered with Labour Department Sindh. This was the result of the direction of the Supreme Court of Pakistan for the registration of the informal sectors (especially brick kilns) to the Chief Secretaries of all four provinces. In this regard, Public Interest Litigation was filed in Sindh High Court. In return, the court ordered the Labour Department to immediately register the unregistered brick kilns.

Another Public Interest Litigation has been filed against the Sindh Employees Social Security Institution to register the brick kiln workers with Social Security Institutions and issue the Social Security cards to them at Hyderabad.

SPARC with efforts of stakeholders was succeeded to issue birth certificates of 1,384 children of bonded laborers by NADRA, 2,710 bonded laborers received Computerized National Identity Cards (CNICs) 653 bonded laborers' families got registered with different safety net schemes like BISP/Shaheed Benazir Women Support Programme and 174 freed bonded labor families were linked and benefited through the provision of Watan Card.

Moreover, 354 bonded laborers were released from bondage through legal support in 35 cases during the reporting period. 8 cases of economic exploitation of farmers by landlords were successfully resolved by Police Anti-Bonded Labour Cell with facilitation of SPARC in Mirpurkhas.


The State of Bonded Labor in Pakistan 2008


Hope for Bonded Laborers


Bonded Labor Free to Starve


Bonded Labor: A Toolkit for Practitioners

SPARC, in collaboration with National Coalition Against Bonded Labor, published a report on the state of bonded labor in Pakistan. Please visit “publication” on our website to download the complete report.


National Legal Framework
International Laws governing Bonded Labor
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