“We love our children, but we need food,” says Masih Saddiq, a 50-year-old brickmaker, explaining why none of his 13 children were in school. They range in age from one-and-a-half to 25; all seem destined to spend their entire lives making bricks, as have their parents.
The brickyard sits outside central Lahore, Pakistan’s second-most populous city. Owned by a Muslim, it employs several Christian families, all of whom live on his land in a makeshift brick village. The homes are crammed together, with head-high outer walls creating a narrow alley. Most homes consist of two rooms, with a small enclosed courtyard. Even the makeshift toilets are enclosed by bricks. Occasional mats or rugs cannot hide the dirt floors; dust hangs in the air. There is no electricity or running water.
Families usually work together, typically 12 hours a day, six days a week. Each group stakes a plot of land: About a dozen families cover the equivalent of a half-dozen football fields. One person digs up the clay and wets it; another fills a cart to move it. Two or three others pack the clay into molds.
The bricks are then left to dry before being fired through burial on top of an enormous furnace—a furnace into which brickmakers have occasionally fallen when the roof has given way. Finished bricks are then stacked, row after row, for the owner’s...