CHENNAI, INDIA – Last week IJM helped rescue families that had been enslaved for about six years. Eleven adults and a 15-year-old boy were forced to work in the woodcutting operation; the small children were growing up in this life of slavery, with no hope of another future in sight. The families were moved from place to place, cutting thorny bushes and chopping logs into wood at each new worksite. Sometimes they also had to do construction work on the owner's house.
The families—including the four small children—slept in makeshift tents made by wrapping saris around wooden sticks. These flimsy structures provided their only shelter, and it was the only home many of the children had ever known.
IJM Chennai Director of Casework Alice Suganya said that the government official leading the operation was "deeply moved" by the subhuman living conditions, particularly considering the children. During the rescue operation, the government leader asked preliminary questions at the worksite, then took all of the slaves back to his office to record their stories. He determined that 12 had been forced to work and issued release certificates that legally declare them free.
"It is worth helping these people," the government leader told Alice, adding, "This makes my work noble." The powerful statement indicates a profound shift from when IJM started combating forced labor slavery in South India a decade ago. Officials were largely unwilling to investigate or act upon claims of slavery, let alone take initiative or show compassion to the victims of the crime.
On the night of their rescue, IJM helped the families return home to their villages. One man's reunion with his family stood out: He had not seen his wife for months, and he had never met their newborn daughter. The owner had forbidden him from going home for the baby's birth or even to visit. Now the family is reunited, and they will be strengthened through IJM's aftercare program for former slaves rebuilding lives in freedom.