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IJM Partner Helps Rescue 40 People from Bondage at a Road Construction Site

Last month, IJM’s casework partner Foundation for Sustainable Development (FSD) supported the local government in rescuing 40 people—including 11 children—who had been in bondage for two years constructing a major highway.

These laborers had been trafficked from villages across the state of Telangana and were being forced to work near the city of Hyderabad. They had all come from India’s Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, which are protected people groups who are often disadvantaged and vulnerable to exploitation.

The trafficker who lured these 40 laborers to the worksite had been operating with impunity for decades. One victim says she had worked for him off and on for 25 years, and another had known him for 12.

To entice families to go with him, the trafficker would offer generous advance payments of 30,000 rupees (about $400 USD), which he said they could repay through their work.

In reality, the site owners used these debts to control and manipulate the laborers. They charged high interest rates and added new charges—even fining workers for being sick—and never let the workers see their accounts. They also forbid the laborers from leaving to find other work, meaning they could control and exploit them for years.

As they worked, the families also endured harsh living conditions, with crude houses that often flooded and poor-quality food provided by the site managers. If anyone complained, they were verbally abused or beaten until they stayed quiet.

Staff from FSD heard about the ongoing exploitation at the construction site and alerted local officials who could rescue the victims. Because these officials were unfamiliar with bonded labor, FSD helped review India’s laws and the standard operating procedures used to rescue people from abuse like this.

On June 19, the government assembled a team from the police, Labor Department, Women and Child Development Department, and Revenue Division, which oversees business affairs. They arrived at the worksite at 7:00 a.m., quickly interviewed the laborers to confirm the truth, and then brought all 40 people to safety at a government office. Officials then took the victims’ detailed statements and helped them access medical care and COVID-19 tests.

Once the process was completed, officials helped transport the victims back to their homes, where FSD staff will help in their long-term rehabilitation.

In addition to their aftercare, FSD will also follow up with the government on Release Certificates for the laborers (to break their false debts and help them secure government benefits) and in filing a police case against the men who abused them.

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