Captive in clay – exposing the harrowing plight of the Brick Slaves of Pakistan

In this blogpost, photo-journalist, Deborah Paul unmasks the harrowing plight of The Brick Slaves of Pakistan, people caught in bondage for generations.

Today, according to the International Labour Organisation, there are over 50 million people caught in slavery. In Pakistan alone, there are over 4 million brick slaves caught in a cycle of bond slavery.

In March of 2023, I travelled with a group of missionary students to Pakistan. Our mission was to invest into the Christians of Pakistan through Gospel crusades and conferences. While it was an incredibly powerful time, it was our visits to two brick kiln (slave) camps that left the biggest mark on me.

It was shocking to see modern day slavery play out in one of over 20,000 brick kiln factories outside of Lahore in the Punjab region of Pakistan. What is equally shocking to witness is that most of these slaves are Christians and therefore considered minorities in this nation.

In 2012, the Supreme Court of Pakistan ruled against slavery in brick kilns, but sadly to date, there are over 4.5 million men, women and children caught up in a debt of bond slavery – where families live and work together in unimaginable conditions, to pay off a debt made years earlier. It is shocking to find out that over 70% of brick slaves are children, working alongside parents and grandparents.

These people are forced to work for up to 14 hours a day in blazing heat, while the kiln pumps out billows of black smoke from black, dense coal that pollutes the air. Lahore has the highest levels of pollution in the world and Pakistan currently stands as the 10th worst in the world ranking for pollution.

Unicef describes bond labour as “An abuse analogous to slavery in which individuals are pledged to work either for a money lender or a landlord to repay a debt or loan. It applies to children who work either for a money lender or for a landowner as bonded labourers to pay off the debts of family members.

One of the thousands of brick kilns where the Brick Slaves of Pakistan are subject to a never-ending cycle of bondage. Photos: Deborah Paul

Pray for the Brick Slaves of Pakistan

The brick slaves of Pakistan have very little hope of a different life, with interest on debts spiralling. With little or no sanitation and often left to go hungry unless the daily quota of bricks is made, brick slavery seems to be a never-ending cycle of bondage.

Walking into the brick camps, seeing hundreds of men, women and children making bricks led me to think of the Israelites caught in bondage in Egypt. It was chilling to think that the same practices go on today. I kept hearing the children’s song in my head “Pharaoh, Pharaoh, let my people go.”

Thankfully, there are a number of organisations working to help end brick slavery and many local churches on the ground who run feeding programmes and raise funds to help set them free. One such organisation based in the UK is Rhea Ministries, who run Project Exodus, helping set brick slaves free.

For more information about modern day slavery, the International Justice Mission does a wonderful job at tackling this huge and deeply distressing issue.

Also read: We thank God for the extraordinary life of Brother Andrew of Open Doors – 1928-2022

Deborah is an award-winning film maker, writer and photographer. She also Co-Founded & was the Director of I61 Collective. This encompassed an ethical fashion brand that had a heart to use clothing as a tool for good. She also founded "Music on the Wind," a creative reconciliation project that uses music to build bridges. Deborah is an entrepreneurial visionary who is passionate about telling stories and raising awareness for issues facing the world today.

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