Free the Slaves’ U.K. partner Anti-Slavery International estimates there are over 1.8 million people living in slavery in Pakistan. Canadian NGO SOS Children’s Villages recently sited an Asian Human Rights Commission report highlighting the enslavement of Pakistani children: “a possible 20,000” disabled children forced to work as beggars; children trafficked to the United Arab Emirates.
Free the Slaves has seen slavery in Pakistan first-hand, when we honored Veero, a survivor of bonded labor, with the Frederick Douglass Freedom Award in 2009.
Last month, a breakthrough of sorts happened in Pakistan, when the country’s Minister for the Interior, Rehman Malik “admitted” to the National Assembly that the government remains “unable to fully control the menace of human trafficking” within its borders.
Since 2009, thousands of people have been arrested in Pakistan for human trafficking. But an estimated 40,000 people pass through the Torkham border, leading into Afghanistan, without “logging in and out.”
In neighboring India, it is estimated that millions of people live in slavery. Bonded labor is rampant in many parts of the sub-continent. Recently, CNN covered the groundbreaking anti-slavery work of Free the Slaves and our frontline partners in India. (FTS’ Free a Village Build a Movement campaign creates sustainable, generational change by eradicating the root causes of slavery—and helping survivors become economically self-sufficient, and vigilant against traffickers.)
In response to CNN’s coverage of FTS’ anti-slavery work, India’s Labor Minister Prabhat Chaturvedi gave an interview saying that there was no slavery in India. He refused to use the term “slavery” to describe the phenomena of millions of men, women and children laboring—sometimes for generations—to pay off debts.
Watch: Debate Swirls Around the “S” World
Despite Chaturvedi’s denial, debt bondage is recognized as a form of slavery by the United Nations. As with all kinds of slavery, it comes with violence—the threat of it, and the actualization of it. The aforementioned Veero, a survivor of bonded labor, told Free the Slaves:
“We were treated like animals. Anyone who refused [to work] was beaten up. The slaveholders hired men armed with guns and axes, and they guarded us the entire day.”
Veero’s courage to walk away from her enslavement was sparked when the slaveholder wanted to use her daughter for sex. She escaped, and walked in the dead of night to the nearest town. The police would not help her at first. So she staged a three-day sit-in. Eventually, the police relented, and helped free her entire family.
Watch: Pakistan: From Slave to Abolitionist: One Woman’s Story