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Christian family enslaved after borrowing money for eldest daughter's marriage set free!

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Razzak Masih working at a brick kiln.




Razzak Masih (48 years) and his family have been working as Christian slaves in brick kilns for the last 5 years. They inadvertently contracted themselves into a slave worker arrangement, when they had to borrow 50,000 rupees (£361.30) to pay for the marriage of their eldest daughter Rukhsana.  A friend suggested they take a loan from a local man who was a landlord of some fields, what they had not realized at the time was the extent of the interest they would have to pay.  Apparently straight after signing the contract their 50,000 rupee loan had become a debt of 150,000 rupees and was incurring daily charges.  Moreover despite the fact Razzak was a council street sweeper at the time, a caveat within the contract required him to quit that job and with his wife Rubina (43) he was forced to start work at the brutal brick kilns of Kasur.  When he left his former lowly sweeper job, he gave up a pension and state benefits which would have entitled he and his family to free healthcare. 

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An estimated 7% of Christians attain an adequate level of literacy, so as you can imagine when Razzak signed his contract he had absolutely no idea of it's contents. Razzak was forced to sign the contract with a thumb print as he could not even spell his own name, his inability to read meant the value of the paperwork did not register and they now have no copy of the original paperwork. The family had intended to pay the loan back as soon as possible but due to a short deadline and financial difficulties that included a rapidly burgeoning interest rate, they were forced to take on work at the brick kiln of the lender.  Daily visits by numerous  frighteningly large men seeking the outstanding loan contributed to their decision to give up their freedom, Razzak informed the BPCA.      

Life in the brick kilns is extremely harsh, labourers work extremely long hours and are required to complete a quota of 1000 bricks per day, for 500 rupees ((£3.61). This amount barely covers their daily living expenses and the family soon discovered that the daily interest on the loan meant that they would never escape their slavery or that of their children who were also caught up in the same contract.  Children are obliged to initiate work from the age of 18 for this particular kiln owner, however the family are fortunate as many kilns require employment from 13 years.  Only one child has been forced to work in the kilns, that is their daughter Sumera who had still been living with the family after the loan.  Rape can be common on brick kilns and the parents have been stressed about her safety since her coming of age, they have also felt deep guilt that they had trapped her into such an abysmal fate.

Shifts at brick kilns start at 6 am and and can finish at 6pm or later depending on when the quota is completed. employees can be beaten for tardiness, though Razzak and his family have always been very punctual so escaped this particular brutality.  Moreover women only get paid half the salary of a man though in essence they do the same amount of labour i.e. producing the 1000 bricks. No health and safety; ppe, health checks, risk assessments, training or manuals are provided to workers. When workers take time off due to ill health they are fined for non-appearance and can be beaten at many kilns. Brick kiln owners do not pay the social security payments required for e. mployees to receive state benefits, so when Christian slaves get sick they are forced to take further loans to pay for medical care, prolonging and extending their debt in perpetuity

A number of general laws are clearly ignored and contravened by brick kiln owners, including; employment equality laws, health and safety laws and laws against torture and imprisonment.  However, to the chagrin of all humanitarian NGO's working in Pakistan, the country actually has established anti-slavery laws which have little of no enforcement and as such lack any impetus.

It is believed that over 90% of the bonded brick kiln labourers in Pakistan are Christian

Razzak and Rubina have five children, Rukhsana (21 years), Sumera (18 years), Fayaz (16 years), Samina (14 years) and  Haroon (12 years).  Rukhsana is the married daughter she has managed to escape the plight of her family, as she no longer resided with them at the time of their enslavement.   Sumera and Fayaz had to leave education after primary school as their parents could not afford the school fees.  They have been helping their parents without pay on the brick kilns. The youngest two were both attending school.


Samina and Haroon look much more healthy since emancipation.

Razzak spoke about his plight, describing the threat to the safety of his daughters, he said:

"Everyday I have been threatened and laughed at, my family too.  We have been taking a lot of abuse from the brick kiln owners who tell us we are worthless and keep telling us how much we owe and how the amount keeps growing.  

They kept offering to buy one of my daughters to reduce the loan, but I declined their offer.  I have been very worried that something might happen to the girls and have prayed for a way out for so long, it has now been five years."  

Razzak, contemplated killing himself, but could not face leaving his family behind, or missing out on the joy of heaven. often this was his only shred of hope.  He said:
 
It is hard being a father but the pressure they put on me was unbearable, sometimes I just wanted to take my own life. But I knew that if I did God would not forgive me and I would never get to see my children in the peace of heaven. This earth is harsh but I will not give up the blessing of heaven to escape the pain." 


BPCA officer's arrive in a rescue van.

On Mehwish Bhatti and Kanwal Amar our lead officers in Pakistan, travelled to the family. The family knew they were going to be set free from their bonded labour compound only an hour before our team arrived.  They had known for some time that we would attempt to free them but the date was kept a secret till then for the safety of everyone.  

When the rescue team arrived they were welcomed and everyone shared warm embraces.  This was a moment of great elation and excitement for the family who were going to finally escape their brutal slavery. Mehwish Bhatti said "As we waited for darkness to fall outside Razzak's family and our rescue team could feel our fear and anxiety increasing.  No-one in that room had any previous experience in conducting an escape like this."

The group would have to avoid watchmen looking out for potential escapees 24 hours a day.  The family were advised that they could take nothing with them just some clothes and a few personal belongings.  Moreover everything in the house belonged to the brick kiln owner. At the appointed time the group left the home as silently as possible and entered our hired vehicle. They had been praying for an hour and felt God guiding their steps.  They left the confines of the Christian slave compound, avoiding locations where watchmen were known to guard.  

As the escape vehicle got past the boundary walls a huge sigh of relief was sighed by all.

Kanwal Amar, said:

"For as long as we could muster the strength everyone praised God through worship songs, eventually we all fell asleep, as our travel to the city safe house was many hours away. When the family got to the home they were welcomed by an existing family who we helped escape a blasphemy allegation, together we shared a time of praise and worship.  We thanked God for bringing us through a very dangerous situation to a place of sanctuary it had been a terrifying moment for all of us - but God was our strength and shield."
      
This escape was not a rushed decision we had been planning and encouraging the family for over a month, detailing what they could take with them, what we would provide and how we would protect them and restart their lives.  Brick kiln workers have been so brutalized the very thought of escaping seems like a pipe dream or simply impossible.  By breaking down the process over a period of time we have been able to build victim confidence.   

Our officer Kanwal Amar and Mehwish Bhatti have been counselling many of the brick kiln workers of Kasur, since we built new brick homes for victims who lost mud homes in the floods of 2015.  During that time we have held outreach events at which we shared audio bibles which have brought a much better understanding of their Christian faith to many illiterate and beleaguered Christians.  Their understanding of God's unending and unconditional love has given the community great hope.  It was this emboldened belief that caused this family to take courage and escape their dilemma. Many others have since their escape expressed a desire to leave and we wish to help them live their calling too. 

"Were you a slave when you were called? Don't let it trouble you--although if you can gain your freedom, do so. For the one who was a slave when called to faith in the Lord is the Lord's freed person; similarly, the one who was free when called is Christ's slave."

1 Corinthians 7 v 21-22


Since writing this article Razzak has already started working in a factory near the location of our safe house. in another two months after we have helped Razzak build his own deposit, we hope to move them into their own rental property.  We will of course report back on this  and the family will continue to be supported through counselling, advice and anything else necessary to help them maintain their new lives.  

Please sign our petition (click here)

We would like to thank Pastor Tariq who travels to Kasur to give pastoral care, communion and Christian teaching to Christians residing there. His support for our group has made our work in the area possible.

If you would like to contribute to our work transforming the lives of persecuted Christian slaves please (click here). Your donations will allow us to pay necessary transportation, rent and food for victims at our safe house.  They will also fund a full-time carer and counselor who will also resettle families permanently in their own homes after finding employment for capable members.  

Please pray for an end to slavery in Pakistan and for Christians to be treated as equal citizens.

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