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Education and empowerment provide hope for children of families working in brick kilns

© UNICEF Pakistan/2010/Zaidi
On his way to school, Dilawar stands by his grandmother who places clay in the mould to make unbaked bricks.

Biseen Village, Lahore, December 2010: Twelve year old Dilawar Masih belongs to a Christian family who works on a brick kiln located a few kilometres from the metropolis of Lahore. His father has passed away and his mother has since remarried. Dilawar lives with his grandmother and two uncles. 

Close to the brick kiln where Dilawar’s family works is the Biseen Child Protection Centre, established by UNICEF and managed by the Bunyad Literacy Community Council (BLCC). This is one of the ten centres UNICEF has established though financial support from Barclays Bank under the project called ‘Banking for a Brighter Future through Protecting Children from Hazardous Occupations and Exploitation in Bonded Labour’.

Dilawar is a grade 2 student at the UNICEF-BLCC Centre, Biseen, and is keen to complete his education to create a better future for himself and his family.

“Working in the kiln is tough and I don’t want my grandmother to work because she is old,” he says. “We start working in the kiln at daybreak. I dig and bring the clay to my grandmother who puts it in the mould to make bricks. After working for a few hours I rush back home, change into my school uniform and come to the centre at eight o clock. After school, I go back to the brick kiln and work for a few more hours. I want to study and complete ten years of education so that I can find a respectable job – not in a brick kiln”, he adds.

Families that work in brick kilns are trapped in debt-bonded labour. Most of these families have migrated from other areas in search of a better life. They take loans from owners of the brick kilns and then work for years to settle them. Often, they have to take more loans to settle the earlier loans.

Working in a brick kiln is hard labour with little reward. For making 1,500 bricks, a family gets only Rs. 600 (US$ 7). The same number of bricks sells for Rs. 7,500 (US$ 87) in the city. For owners of the brick kilns, this is a lucrative business.

“I own four kilns in this area and 200 families work on them”, says Khadim Hussain, a brick kiln owner. “On the average, there are eight to ten members in a family and they all work in the kiln. All of these families are under life-long loan. They spend a lot of money on marriages, funerals and their men go to the city every weekend for their own entertainment. Women only get enough to manage meals for the family. When they need more money, they move from one kiln to another, get more loan to pay off the one from the previous kiln owner," he adds. 

The objective of the Barclays Bank and UNICEF supported project is to provide families working in brick kilns alternate methods of earning a livelihood and a brighter future for their children through education and empowerment.  

“The main components of this project include formal and non-formal education, vocational training, empowerment through participation activities, conditional cash grants, orientation of parents and brick kiln owners on child protection issues and birth registration”, explains Nasira, the BLCC project coordinator. “We have a three-year education cycle during which a child completes primary education and is ready to appear for grade five examinations in the public education system. The project also ensures that every adult member of families working in a brick kiln has a National Identity Card and every newborn is registered,” she adds.

Collaborative efforts of UNICEF, Barclays Bank and the BLCC have yielded positive results for children and their families working in brick kilns in the Lahore district, creating a better future for Pakistani children.



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