SALISBURY, Md.—It is a devastating situation. Children, as young as three or four years old, work 16-19 hours a day, seven days a week, with only one meal a day. They work even if they are sick—all to pay off former debts from their parents and grandparents.
Many of these children die, shared Donna Brittingham, a member of Allen Memorial Church in Salisbury, Md., who recently became aware of the growing problem that the indentured poor face in Pakistan. She wants to do something about it.
And she has. Already, she and other like-minded individuals have paid off the debt for 18 people. And it has only been two months.
But the goal is to rescue 1,000 people this year. At a cost of around $650-$700 per person, it is achievable—especially considering the cost of not rescuing them.
“Children are beaten, owned and treated as a possession instead of as a person,” Brittingham shared. “Not only are they exploited and mistreated by their employers, but also they are forced to endure unsanitary working places and sometimes eat unhealthy, spoiled food. The lack of clean drinking water and no medical care is often the cause of death among these children.”
Brittingham explained that although the Pakistani government forbids child slavery and “all forms of forced labor and traffic in human beings,” the children of Christian parents are not valuable enough to be protected by these laws.
“They aren’t citizens,” she explained. “They are lower than animals, especially because they are Christians—or their heritage is. It is like the Jews and the Samaritans—they are lower than dirt and the Muslims do not want to get near them. If a Christian touches the Qu’ran, they can receive the death penalty.”
According to a June 2009 U.S. State Dept. Trafficking in Persons Report, Pakistan is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women and children trafficked for the purposes of forced labor and sexual exploitation.
The country’s largest human trafficking problem is that of bonded labor, which is concentrated in Sindh and Punjab provinces, particularly in brick kilns, carpet making, agriculture, fishing, mining, leather tanning and production of glass bangles.
The report estimates that there are likely over one million Pakistani victims of bonded labor, including men, women, and children. Parents sell their daughters into domestic servitude, prostitution, or forced marriages, and women are traded between tribal groups to settle disputes or as payment for debts.
Brittingham became aware of the child slavery issue after her church adopted a pastor in Bhutan. She was added to his mailing list, where she learned about a Pakastani pastor’s efforts to rescue people from slavery in his country.
“In December, I found myself up in the middle of the night praying for this Pakastani pastor,” Brittingham shared.
She later learned the child slaves’ plight when the pastor came to the United States to escape persecution. Through him, she learned that Christian families, in desperation, sell a child into slavery to sustain the rest of the family.
“This child will grow up, marry and his children will also belong to the slave owner,” she shared, explaining the problem of generational debt and slavery.
Presently, Brittingham and her church are working on two types of rescue in one Pakastani city.
The first targets orphan slave children, who will be purchased from their owner and placed with a Christian family in the house church community or in the school/rescue center.
In addition, attempts will be made to rescue whole families by purchasing them back from slavery by paying the debt of the prior generation.
Long-range plans include the development of micro loans, small loans that will be provided to families for income-producing methods to escape severe poverty and start their new life in freedom. Some examples of purchase include sewing machines, rickshaws, and farm animals, such as water buffalo, chickens and goats.
Presently, rescued children and families attend the underground house church, where a pastor will help them assimilate into freedom. The ultimate goal is to raise enough funds to build a rescue center for the slaves and to develop a school where they can be educated and given life skills that will take them out of their current life situation.
“Each school will be open to Christian and Muslim children, but it will be a Christian-based education. Muslim children will gladly pay to attend a real school,” Brittingham explained.
“Education is mandatory for true freedom in any culture,” she added, noting that the education would be better than public schools, which teach only the Qu’ranand jihad.
“Young men will learn a skill; so becoming an extremist will not be their only option. Teenage boys will not be indoctrinated, but set free by the Gospel and the true Prince of Peace,” she said.
The cost of the land for the school is $45,000. To construct the building, which will enable 500 rescued children to study, will cost only $25,000. The school will also serve as a boarding school for up to 150 students without a home.
“Please pray with me that this will open the door for more churches to rescue children in this nation, which has NO help,” Brittingham pleaded. “We are forerunners in reaching a nation for Christ that is unsafe for missionaries. Our community (with the nationals) is there to do the work. They just need resources because of the poverty and persecution.”
If you’d like to participate in this ministry, call (410) 742-2659 with any questions.