Bonded Labour in Pakistan – Impact, Challenges and Role of Government

33 Pages Posted: 30 Jul 2020

Date Written: March 6, 2017


‘Bonded Labour’ or ‘Debt Bondage’ is a modern day form of slavery in which economic exploitation of the poor is used as a tool of coercion. The bonded labour system uses ‘peshgi’, a vernacular for an advance, to bind those in destitution to a life of servitude through a seemingly voluntary contract. The advance provided is not in accordance with the established remuneration standards of labour for the same amount of work. The system is also marred by unjust practices targeting the vulnerability of those in destitution. Economic and cultural vulnerability are the factors perpetuating bonded labour, which keeps whole families in bondage for generations. The plight of these bonded labourers is further compounded due to the lack of education, unavailability of formal credit facilities and absence of alternate employment opportunities to the extent that they are unable to free themselves from bondage for generations. Historically and culturally the system of bonded labour has been given a tacit recognition as at best is considered an issue of labour laws rather than a violation of human rights or a form of slavery. Ratification of numerous international treaties on the subject as well as the protections given in the constitution and national laws has not eradicated this menace from Pakistan.

To understand bonded labour it is important to start with the definitions of slavery, forced labour and bonded labour. These definitions are correlated and establish the origins of bonded labour and its true nature as a form of modern day slavery. Poverty has been identified as the primary factor that perpetuates bonded labour. The sectors that are most involved in this violation of human rights are the agriculture, brick kiln and mining sectors. Abolition interventions in Pakistan are limited to the enactment of law against bonded labour and the creation of the fund for the rehabilitation and welfare of freed bonded labourers. There are many issues in the implementation of the abolition regime and the measures are marred by limitation. It is recommended that abolition require the provision of affordable credit facilities to the bonded families, introducing and strengthening collective bargaining associations in the rural sectors and skill development of these labourers. Moreover, only awareness on bonded labour as a human rights issue amongst the public in general and specifically state functionaries can change the mind-set and become a precursor to abolition of bonded labour.

Keywords: Bonded Labour, Slavery, Debt Bondage, Servitude, Forced Labour

Suggested Citation

Ahsan, Syed Abbas, Bonded Labour in Pakistan – Impact, Challenges and Role of Government (March 6, 2017). Available at SSRN: or

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