AN ADULT LITERACY CENTER FOR BONDED LABORERS

The wide road at the entrance of Sheikhupura is bustling and chaotic, but a sharp turn leads to a bumpy, muddy road which winds through the village of Chaapa. Tall brown kilns tower over the fields, and black smoke fills the air. It is an ideal location for Bonded Labor Liberation Front’s Adult Literacy Center.

Serving as a bridge between government’s policies under the Punjab Social Protection Authority (PSPA) 2015 which called for the protection of workers’ social security through Khidmat cards, and the brick kiln owners, the Adult Literacy center seeks to create awareness of labor rights to both the owners and the laborers. It also seeks to educate the laborers so that they can understand the terms of their contracts and sign them.

The center is humbly built; it has two small classrooms, one office and a bathroom. One classroom is for the men, and the other for the women. They are between the ages of 16 and 50. Children are playing around, but they are not students here. They are accompanying their fathers and mothers to school.

It is here the Bonded Labor Liberation Front carries out its mission of educating and empowering the laborers. The aim is to help them get CNICs made, fill out birth registration forms and get social security cards made. They carry out awareness sessions where they educate brick kiln laborers about their legal rights. Owners of the kiln are invited to attend these sessions. The purpose is to establish an egalitarian relationship between the laborer and the owner.

The students of this center carry the energy possessed by preschoolers; they eagerly recite their alphabets and proudly show off their multiplication skills. They do not need the center officers to motivate them to come to the center; as soon as they are done making their required number of bricks in the early hours of the morning they rush to the center. They rush to get their homework checked and gleam when they connect alphabets to form words.

The center teaches them basic hygiene practices like washing hands before meals and has been trying to advocate for clean water provision and toilet facilities on brick kilns. But despite their efforts, the kilns still don’t provide ideal working conditions to the laborers. Kilns in the village don’t have toilets or clean drinking water.

Even if the kiln owners in the area are cooperative, the center was only able to get 5 social security cards last year. But the program officers and teachers are proud of their students; since February they have learnt the Urdu and English alphabet and understand basic math. This is enough to read the contracts of their terms with the kiln owners, at least, and this is essential to end bonded labor.

Video: