CHENNAI, INDIA – Nearly seventy people were rescued from a life of slavery in a rural district in Andhra Pradesh. Children were forced to work beside their parents in the brick factory around the clock – literally up to 22 hours a day – seven days a week. One 10-year-old boy told how he had to make 2,000 clay bricks a day, carrying eight at a time.
The twenty-one families were trapped inside the factory. No one was allowed to leave, and they earned about a quarter a day (14 rupees). The women had one hour a day to cook food for their families. They ate the same meal of rice and tomato for every single meal.
Over their five months in captivity, the slaves' sense of self started to disintegrate. Family structures started to corrode. Husbands and wives were forced to sleep separately. Parents helplessly watched as their toddlers were forced to turn over the bricks under the hot sun, making sure they dried evenly.
Rescued from Life-threatening Violence
On April 18, 2013, IJM gave evidence to state-level government officials documenting the alleged abuse inside the brick factory. The government assembled a rescue team and drove to the factory. It was raining when they arrived, and the families were huddled together under a makeshift shelter.
IJM helped the families gather their meager belongings and escorted them back to the government office. Most of the men and women answered questions devoid of emotion, simply stating the facts of their reality. It was clear they had been trapped in the brick factory as forced labor slaves, held there by violence and fear.
One woman cradled her malnourished infant in fragile arms as she told the government officials about the harrowing delivery three months earlier. She gave birth to the baby all by herself. She said the owner refused to let a mid-wife or any other workers help her. After much pleading, the owner finally relented and allowed her mother-in-law to go wash the baby and cut the umbilical cord. The woman went on to say that her husband had run away from the factory after enduring severe physical abuse.
One woman cradled her malnourished infant in fragile arms as she told the government officials about the harrowing delivery three months earlier. She gave birth to the baby all by herself. She said the owner refused to let a mid-wife or any other workers help her. "The amount of violence and physical abuse faced by the laborers was life-threatening," according to IJM Chennai Director of Casework Alice Suganya. She added: "All of the men said they had been beaten or harassed. They told us how the owner even abused the toddlers that asked for breast milk."
A teenage boy using a walking stick explained how he had gotten the injury inside the brick factory. He said the brick factory owner shoved him onto a pile of rocks, and he believed his leg was broken. He was never allowed to get treatment, and his leg still has not healed properly.
A New Day After
hours of recording the shocking stories of abuse, the government officials issued 44 release certificates. These legal documents emancipate the slaves and entitle them to government benefits, including monetary compensation.
The IJM staff on the scene made sure the families had a good meal, then helped them board a train that would take them back home. The journey lasted 24 hours.
"There is a huge influx of migrant laborers to the southern states," explained Anu George, Director of Google Interventions – an IJM project funded by Google to train and equip other NGOs and government officials on how to combat forced labor slavery throughout India. Anu added that most of the slaves her team discovers are extremely vulnerable, "under debt and facing acute poverty." They are easily lured across state borders with the promise of a steady job with room and board – plus a hefty payment up front. "Forced labor slavery is exactly this – a trap. The slave owners prey on impoverished people desperate to survive."
It is a new day for the twenty-one families rescued late last week. IJM will continue to follow up and make sure they have access to the resources they need to rebuild lives in safety. Anu's team working with partners in nine states across India will continue to raise awareness and build capacity so the government can effectively end forced labor slavery. Anu added, "The issue is highly prevalent and requires attention from both State and Central government."