We were reminded once again of the cruelty of modern-day slavery this weekend—as IJM and local officials helped reunite a terrified mother and with her four young children kidnapped by a brick kiln owner’s wife.
This family was freed in one of three back-to-back rescue operations led by IJM and one high-level local official. Together, we are hoping to end the practice of bonded labor slavery and ensure no other families have to endure this violence and abuse again.
Friday Rescues: Free After 8 Years
The string of rescue operations began Friday, May 25, when IJM brought two suspected cases of bonded labor to a new local official. Even though it was just his first day on the job, he immediately agreed to conduct rescues at both brick kilns—freeing 16 people, including three children.
As authorities interviewed each victim, the truth about the violence and deprivation they endured became clear. They had lived in appalling conditions and were forced to mold and haul thousands of heavy clay bricks for 17 hours every day.
One woman said her family had taken a loan of 4,000 rupees (about $60) from the owner, but it had ballooned to a debt of 94,000 (about $1,400), even after working tirelessly for eight years. The manipulative kiln owner allegedly told her, “I have contacts everywhere. If ever you try to escape, I’ll break your legs and kill you.”
All 16 former laborers are now safe and recovering. Officials gave them release certificates—which formally break the false debts to the kiln owners—and have helped them return to their home villages.
Saturday Rescue: Mother and Children Reunited
The following day, on May 26, IJM worked with the same local officials to rescue families from a third abusive brick kiln. When they arrived, they learned the owner had been tipped off and sent several laborers away. Only one family remained.
“The couple looked starved and malnourished, like they hadn’t eaten for a month,” says one IJM social worker. “These laborers are not held by walls—but by the fear of what would happen if they disobeyed their masters.”
Emotions flared just as officials finished interviewing the parents, who returned to their small hut to find their four young children were missing.
Their mother, who is heavily pregnant, began searching frantically and screaming her children’s names. For two hours, she and the IJM team searched the entire worksite, until a trail of tiny footprints led them through the sand and up a thorny hillside to find the kids at last.
Her children, ages 4 to 7, said the kiln owner’s wife had dragged them from their home and forced them to hide. Even after reuniting with their mother, they were scared and took a long time to open up to the IJM team.
IJM has seen several cases in the past where slave owners attempt to hold children ransom to control their parents. It’s just one of the many tactics used to keep modern-day slavery hidden—and one of the many reasons we must keep up the fight.
We are, however, grateful to be seeing progress in the fight against bonded labor slavery. During this dramatic third rescue operation, officials recognized that this kiln and 9 others nearby were operating illegally. The lead official shut down all 10 kilns and confiscated the equipment they had been using to mine sand and transport bricks for sale.
Charges will be filed against the kiln owners who abused and enslaved these families in the coming days. Meanwhile, a local NGO has helped them return to their home village and begin recovering together as a family.
International Justice Mission protects the poor from violence throughout the developing world. IJM partners with local authorities to rescue victims, bring criminals to justice, restore survivors and strengthen justice systems. Our team has helped local officials combat bonded labor slavery in Chennai since 2001, and together we've brought thousands of children, women and men to freedom.
You can rescue families trapped in slavery today. Join us as a Freedom Partner.