Rewards elude Pakistan brick makers

Grinding poverty just outside Islamabad belies country’s economic indicators.

Many people in Tarli have known no other job but brick making in a town of 65 private kilns

Tarli is less than half an hour’s drive from Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan, but it is half a world away. Like thousands of villages across the country, it has no running water.

Many of the residents work in one of the 65 private brick kilns – often they have known no other job – and it is one that does not pay enough for them to get by.

One kiln alone can produce 50,000 bricks a day. The people who make them do not know much about where they go. But they do know that they are not seeing any of the profits.

Babar is 13 years old, yet he has already been working at a kiln in Tarli for five years.

“My parents do the same work. I want to go to school, but we are poor. We have to work to earn our daily bread,” he says.

Dangerous work

It is not just backbreaking work, it can also be dangerous: Mohammed Nazir lost part of a finger while operating a water pump.

That meant months off work with no money coming in to support his wife and five children.

“I wrote two letters applying for help from President Musharraf,” he said. “But I don’t think they ever got there.”

Many people in Tarli are also struggling to pay off enormous debts after taking loans from the owners of the kilns.

With little help on offer from the authorities, they sometimes take drastic measures.

Desperate steps

At the age of just 21, Mohammed Akram found himself owing a 150,000 Pakistani rupees – or $2,500.

Then he heard some foreigners were in the area with money to spend.

Mohammed recalled: “I went to the doctors and they took a blood sample. The doctor asked me how much I wanted for one of my kidneys.

Mohammed Akram sold one of his kidneys for
$1200 to pay down part of the money he owes

“I asked how much he would offer me, and he said 70,000 rupees (or $1,200). So they took out my kidney – you can see the scar.”

Mohammed says he does not regret what he did, but he still owes a lot of money. He doesn’t expect much from politicians although he would vote – if he could.

“Whoever can give me an official identity card, I would cast my vote for him,” he says. “I don’t know anything about politics.”

Carrying the burden of debt means the people of Tarli cannot even dream of seeking out a living elsewhere.

In case they do get tempted, they say there are armed guards in the area to dissuade them.

Most never make it to Islamabad. They can only watch the lorries carting off the bricks and dream about the houses they will help to make.

Source: Al Jazeera


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