A fine article by Haznain Kazim in the Australian Financial Review (‘A Tale of Deliverance’, 9 January 2015) states that 35.8 million worldwide live under debt slavery.
It gives an example about how it happens. A penniless family borrows a small sum (by our standards), in this case to build a modest dwelling. They repay the debt by all the family working in the lender’s brick-making factory, except that the interest rates are so high that the amount owed does not diminished but grows. The whole family is now trapped in debt slavery in perpetuity, with almost no freedom and crippling working conditions.
The owner, a prominent politician in Pakistan, hypocritically says, ‘Our employees have a good life with us’, he says, ‘They aren’t lacking anything’.
The article claims that many debt slaves are physically abused, including sexually, and that there are examples of people missing without trace, incinerated in the fiery hot brick kilns.
Perhaps the ‘slaves’ might simply run away and find freedom? They are effectively prevented by a cultural sense of shame in reneging on their promises.
The article speaks warmly of a small Christian aid organization, Vast Vision that raises funds to buy the freedom of debt slaves. It tells of a man, a debt slave for many years, being set free by the founder of Vast Vision physically handing over a wad of cash to the ‘owner’. With tears in his eyes the free man collects his wife and two small children and they walk away to a new life.
Of course, debt slavery is illegal in Pakistan, but the authorities do little to stop it. Powerful and wealthy slave owners see that the law is not enforced.
Vast Vision has one condition in liberating adult debt slaves. Their children must go to school so that they will not be drawn back into this servitude.