Chennai’s Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium came alive on Sunday morning—not with a squad of professional athletes, but with the bright yellow shirts and tiny tennis shoes of thousands of excited kids.
These energetic runners were part of the Chennai Summer Kiddathon, a 3-kilometer race on May 6 to promote health and, this year, to raise awareness for child bonded labor in India.
The Kiddathon has run in Chennai for several years, but this time partnered with International Justice Mission to bring an educational edge to the popular family event.
“This is an opportunity for parents to educate their children on the situations surrounding children from underprivileged parts of the society,” says Merlin Freeda, IJM’s director of operations in Chennai.
Her dream was to see families raise “a responsible and empathetic generation for a better future for every child,” especially children from poorer communities who are vulnerable to trafficking and forced labor slavery.
Attendees learned that millions of children across India today are forced to work as bonded laborers, where false debts are used to trap whole families as slaves. Local law enforcement in Tamil Nadu—the state where Chennai sits—has rescued children from hazardous working
Freeda describes gravely, “Fingers that should be wielding colored pencils are instead stuffing chemicals into fireworks. Tender hands are torn by chopping wood or tending rose gardens to make other people’s lives beautiful. Feet that should run free are bound in shackles.”
But while the statistics are staggering, momentum is building in India to protect kids from bonded labor and to end the practice long-term.
“We at IJM focus on liberating these children from the clutches of bondage,” Freeda continues, “which is the beginning of them realizing their dreams—to blossom into future educators, law keepers and lawmakers.”
IJM Chennai has helped the local government rescue more than 7,000 people from bonded labor slavery since 2001, including children as young as 3. With rehabilitation support from IJM and our partners, these families have been able to rebuild safe lives and see children thrive in freedom.
The Kiddathon on May 6 was all about setting that hopeful vision and encouraging the racers to have empathy for kids in different conditions. Local officials spoke about the prevalence and challenges of curbing child bonded labor, and each family was equipped with resources to learn more.
More than 6,000 people attended the race, including several children rescued from slavery by IJM and our government partners.
Their broad smiles and laughter mark a free childhood many are experiencing for the first time—and one we hope millions of Indian children will soon experience as well.
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.