Free At Last: IJM Chennai Helps Rescue Families From Slavery, Some Trapped For 15 Years

Children as young as 4 years old were forced to work alongside their parents in the brick kiln.
Children as young as 4 years old were forced to work alongside their parents in the brick kiln.

CHENNAI, INDIA – Yesterday, IJM helped rescue four families from a life of slavery in an Indian brick factory. One of the men said he had taken out a $10 loan from the factory owner 15 years ago. He had simply wanted to visit his sister. He agreed to work in the factory to repay that small advance. But it was a trap. A decade and a half later, he was still working to repay the alleged loan.

Six children – as young as 4 years old – were forced to work alongside their parents, baking bricks under the hot sun and toiling into the night. The families said they worked seven days a week, and they earned about 50 cents a day – a pittance well below India's minimum wage.

How $10 Trapped One Man For 15 Years

On the day he was rescued, the man who had been enslaved for 15 years said the owner claimed the debt was now $1000 – despite his years of labor to pay back that initial $10 loan. The fact that the man was still working to repay a loan that ballooned to 100 times the original amount is difficult to fathom.

Alice Suganya, IJM Chennai Director of Casework explains that forced labor slaves "live in deep fear" of the owner, who is more powerful and well-connected in the community. In many cases, forced laborers are trafficked to new places where they do not speak the language and do not have any kind of support system. Owners often threaten physical violence – and make good on those threats.

Alice noted that, in this case, some of the people rescued had been forced to work as servants in the owner's own home in addition to their hard labor making bricks. Grown men and women were not in control of their own lives or their family's future. Children were not allowed to go to school. They were enslaved in every sense of the word.

A New Life

On March 4, 2013, IJM supported the government officials with the rescue operation and follow-up back at the district office. The lead government official issued 15 release certificates. These legal documents declare each person free and cancel any "debt" they allegedly owed the owner.

The families will return home, and they will also join IJM's two-year aftercare program. Over the coming weeks, IJM will lead group seminars and visit the individual families to ensure the parents are able to find good jobs. At long last, the children who have only known a life of manual labor are free to go to school and to dream of a new life.