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First Operation of 2021 Frees 41, Including 13 Children

In IJM’s first global rescue operation of the year, our team in India supported local authorities to free 41 people from bondage at a railway construction site in Odisha state. This included 13 young children who lived at the site with their parents.

The families had been brought from the nearby state of Telangana, where they belonged to a disadvantaged ethnic community. Traffickers lured them with generous payment advances (up to 120,000 rupees, or $1,600, per family) and promises of good pay and fair work.

Instead, the advances were used as debt traps to keep the families working nonstop. The contractor said they could not leave without paying off the advance with their labor, but he kept adding more charges every day to keep the debt growing.

After two years without sufficient food or shelter, the families were losing hope they would ever go free. One baby girl was even born at the worksite, without proper medical care.

IJM’s casework partner Foundation for Sustainable Development (FSD) heard about the families’ plight and alerted our staff and local authorities in Odisha. We coordinated with the local government to conduct a rescue operation on the two worksites on January 7, 2021. Authorities helped families pack their few belongings and then provided them with short-term lodging and food as they began to recover.

Next, IJM and FSD staff will continue working with local officials on how to hold the owners at the construction site accountable for enslaving these families, potentially through the National Human Rights Commission. We also helped the survivors return home to Telangana, where they will get the long-term aftercare they need to rebuild life in freedom.

Notably, this was the first rescue operation IJM and our partners have conducted in Odisha. In the past, Odisha has more often been a “source state” from which impoverished families are trafficked to other parts of India. IJM has provided aftercare to thousands of these families once they were rescued and returned home. Today, local authorities can see the issue of bonded labor hits close to home, too.

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