Humans of New York raises $2.3 million to help end bonded labour in Pakistan

A bonded child brick maker in Pakistan Picture: United Nations

Brandon Stanton met Syeda Ghulam Fatima on a trip to Pakistan. He is the man behind the globally sucessful Humans of New York project. She is the founder of the Bonded Labour Liberation Front.

He takes pictures of people he meets on the streets to tell their simple human stories. She has helped to free more than 80,000 people – almost half of them children – from the shackles of modern-day slavery in places like brick kilns and carpet factories.

Brandon was so inspired by her work that he decided to raise funds for her organisation. He used the Humans of New York website and its social media accounts to highlight the BLLF and tell the stories of some of Pakistan’s bonded labourers – when a person’s labour is demanded as repayment for a loan. They work for little or no pay and the debt grows and is often passed on to their children when they die.

Brandon launched his fundraising drive on the Indigogo Life fundraising platform. He told the Mashable website: “Fatima cares about ending slavery more than she cares about her own life. There’s no better person in the world to empower with money.”

Syeda Ghulam Fatima from Pakistan’s Bonded Labour Liberation Front Picture: Facebook/Humans of New York

The goal was to raise $100,000. After four days, the total already stands at $2.3 million, donated by more than 73,000 people.

An overhwelmed Fatima said: “Thank you to everyone who has opened their hearts and donated to our cause. This is a big step for labourers that this has received so much attention, and that their voices have reached a global stage and we are being heard. With this we hope to end bonded labour in Pakistan.”

Child labour affects about 168 million children aged five to 17 worldwide – with 85 million of them in hazardous labour, including forced labour, trafficking and bonded labour. 

Many child labourers never go to school or drop out. Lack of access to education perpetuates a cycle of exploitation, illiteracy and poverty – limiting future options and forcing children to accept low-wage work as adults and to raise their own children in poverty.

In Pakistan – where 5.4 million children are out of school – brick kilns are a major source of child and bonded labour. Fatima told Humans of New York: “Bricks are the primary unit of construction across Pakistan. They are cheaper than concrete so almost everything is made with brick – especially in rural areas.

Brandon Stanton wanted to help Picture: Humans of New York

“There are 20,000 brick kilns across the country. We estimate that an average of 40 families work on each of these kilns and that each family is required to make 1000 bricks per day. That means 4.5 million people are living in slavery conditions.

“And so many of these workers are young children. Often they work all day and are denied education. They work in isolated areas, shielded from the eyes of society and hidden from the protection of the constitution. The laws don’t reach the kilns, so the workers live in constant fear of violence and retribution.”

Brandon’s appeal page tells how the Bonded Labour Liberation Front has established Freedom Centres where workers can go for protection and legal counsel.

He wrote: “This system of bonded labour can only exist in the darkness of ignorance. If Fatima succeeds in her goal of providing education, legal assistance and rehabilitation to every bonded labourer in Pakistan, the system will naturally collapse.

“Fatima has made every sacrifice to make this dream a reality. She has been threatened, beaten, electrocuted and shot. Alongside her husband, Fatima runs BLLF from a small, humble storefront in Lahore. All monies raised will go directly to facilitate the emancipation of bonded labourers through greater outreach and the establishment of more Freedom Centres.”

Learn more about child labour here.

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