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Thursday April 18, 2024

‘Bonded labour on the rise due to govt’s failure to help flood-hit farmers and workers’

By Aftab Ahmed
March 20, 2023

HYDERABAD: The Hari Welfare Association has said that flood-affected farmers and labourers and their children are suffering from hunger and poverty, and they urgently need food, clean drinking water, and social security assistance.

Instead of helping them, the government has forced them to become beggars, said Hari Welfare Association President Akram Ali Khaskheli at the Hyderabad Press Club on Saturday, adding that by the end of 2023, thousands of children under the age of 5 are at risk of dying from malnutrition, hunger, waterborne diseases, malaria and cold.

He said thousands of farmers and rural labourers’ families in 17 districts of Sindh are deprived of adequate shelter, work opportunities, minimum wages, clean drinking water, health and education services. Instead of helping them rebuild their lives by providing shelter and livelihood opportunities, governments have turned them into beggars, he lamented.

Khaskheli said that after floods in August 2022 in Sindh, due to non-implementation of the Sindh Bonded Labour System Abolition Act (SBLSAA) of 2015, bonded labour has increased together with poverty, livelihood insecurity and malnutrition.

He said that in 2023, from January to February, 190, bonded labourers were released through court orders that included 56 children and 63 women. He lamented that in 2022, under the SBLSAA, that only 14 district vigilance committees (DVCs) were constituted of 29 districts, but they were largely ineffective and dysfunctional. However, after floods, there is a dire role of the DVCs because the chances of bonded labour are higher. He claimed that most of the officials are unaware of the Prevention of Persons in Trafficking Act (PoPA) of 2018 and the SBLSAA.

Khaskheli insisted that Sindh and the federal governments have turned a deaf ear to peasants and rural workers who had lost their crops, wages, cattle and houses during rains and floods last year. The provincial government has failed to protect peasants and workers during and after the rains and floods, which has caused peasants and workers to become an easy prey to greedy and exploitative landlord, seed and fertilizer sellers, he added.

However, in the absence of government support, most peasants and farm workers have started working under informal terms and conditions determined by landlords, in which poor families are getting loans and advance for survival, he said.

Khaskheli added that 70 per cent of rural workers and peasants are forced labourers and workers hardly receive Rs6,000 to Rs8,000 per month against the Rs25,000 minimum wage promised by the Government of Sindh for unskilled workers in 2022.

He said that the Sindh Women Agriculture Workers Act (SWAWA) was passed in 2019. However, as with any other law passed since independence, it is now inert. This SWAWA, like any other law, could help to protect rural peasants and worker women from abuse, exploitation, and marginalisation in feudal and tribal societies.

The HWA stated that due to seasonal work and lack of irrigation water in many areas, workers often spend time on roadsides or the agriculture field searching for work when they do not find work and support from the government. They are committing suicide every day.