By SARAH STUTEVILLE
Instead of spending her free time practicing cricket (a favorite Pakistani sport) or playing with her friends after school, Samera Rahmak, 13, works to free children in her community from slavery.
While most countries have laws against slavery – including Pakistan – some families in this South Asian country are so poor that they sell themselves into “bonded labor,” often in brick-making factories, where they work to pay off debts. These debts are usually the result of a family emergency, like an illness or injury.
Once a family’s debt is paid by a brick factory boss, the boss then “owns” the family, including the father, mother, and children and often uncles, aunts and cousins too, until the debt is repaid. Many factory owners take advantage of the workers’ poverty and lack of education, and trick the families or refuse to pay them the money they’ve earned.
Samera and the school she attends, which is run by a group called the Bonded Labor Liberation Front, wants to change all of that. “We are Free!” the children of these brick kiln workers shout every morning at the start of the school day to remind themselves that they are nobody’s slave. Samera counsels her peers about their legal rights and encourages them to attend school.
“I tell these kids that they don’t have to work in the factories and that they should come to school instead,” explains Samera. “They go and ask their parents, and if the parents say ‘yes’ then they come to school with me.”
The factory bosses don’t mind that a child leaves because it means that it will take the family longer to repay the money. When Javeria Yonis, 8, asked her dad if she could start attending school instead of working, he granted permission. Though her mother and father still work in the factory, she hopes that through gaining an education she will be able to break the cycle of bonded labor in her family.