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Looking Back: Two Years Since 76 People Were Rescued From Chennai Jewelry Factories

In September 2019, an anonymous tip sent IJM and local authorities to five jewelry factories in Chennai, India, with reports that dozens of boys from the North of India were being held in bondage.

In a series of rescue operations, the team managed to free 44 children and 32 adults from brutal conditions at the factories and brought them to safety. After a few days of crisis care, the boys erupted joyfully when they learned they would finally be going home.

Two years later, IJM Chennai staff reflected on their memories from the rescue operation and provided an update on where those rescued boys are today:

Our Lead for Aftercare says, “After the rescue, the boys were kept in a safe place. I went to meet the boys, and as I didn’t know their language, we used signs to communicate. When an IJM staff member who knew their language reached the center, the boys couldn’t contain their joy. They were jumping, running inside the room, and hugged that IJM staff (member). They also became calm to listen to the process that needed to be followed. More than the spoken language, love spoke!”

Our Lead for Community Relations says, “What stood out for me was the partnership with the Police—how they formed the team to rescue the innocent boys. I was part of the third rescue team. The first thing I saw when I went in was the fear in the eyes of the boys. Some of them were forced to hide behind a door and I had to use the authority’s help to bring the boys out to safety. When they saw their friends also being pulled to safety, the joy I saw on the boys’ faces was indescribable. Even though I did not speak their language, the way the boys were communicating with each other about what was happening was magical. They felt bad leaving their belongings behind but at that moment, all that they wanted was to get out of that place. Their trust increased when they saw that we helped their friends as well. This helped us gain their cooperation. The love they showed to the IJM staff (member) who spoke their language was heart-warming. Each of them saw him as their family, and this helped us with the entire rescue operation. Indeed, it was one of a kind!”

Our Support Service Team Member—who was able to speak Hindi with the boys—says, “The boys told me that they were under the impression that they had made a huge mistake, and that is why the police have caught them. They told me that they could relate to me as their own brother and father because I spoke their language and was able to communicate with them and cater to their needs. Two of the boys’ ran to me and hugged me with tears streaming down their eyes saying I was someone they would never forget… I was proud to represent IJM, staying with them until 12 am each day making sure that the boys went to bed in peace. The next morning, I would be there by 6 am to make sure that they felt cared for and safe. I strongly believe that had I not built such a rapport, some untoward incident could have happened. But all of us together as IJM, we were able to support and care for them.”

One of our Advocates described: “This case was a first of its kind in the jewelry industry. Most of the victims in this case were adolescent boys. Their place of work and stay was the same hall. None of them were allowed to wear shirts, as there is always a possibility of pilferage of gold. The rescue, enquiry process, temporary shelter, opening of bank accounts to deposit immediate rehabilitation funds, and repatriation of victims was overseen by the Secretary of the District Legal Service Authority in Chennai. The victims were overjoyed to go to their native place.”

After the rescue operation, IJM Chennai staff provided crisis counseling for the boys at their temporary shelter and worked with the government to secure the rehabilitation funds due to them under the law. All of the boys have now received this crucial funding. Next, our teams in Chennai and Kolkata coordinated train travel for the survivors and helped them reconnect with their families.

Many staff stayed in touch with them, especially during the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020. The adult survivors were able to find stable work in their own communities, and we have heard that the other families are keeping their boys safe at home.

Many of the boys also still call our staff to check in—grateful for all that IJM has done for them.

Relive the moment the boys learned from IJM staff they would be going home, by visiting our Stories of Hope.

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