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New “One Stop Crisis Team” Rescues 18 from a Life of Slavery

Eighteen people—including 6 children—are now free from a life of modern slavery thanks to a brand-new One Stop Crisis Team recently launched in their home state of Tamil Nadu, India.

These six families had been enslaved for up to ten years under false debts and threats of violence. Every day, they were forced to chop down thorny shrubs in a forest so the owner could sell the firewood. The families were never allowed to leave the worksite and were forced to live in makeshift thatched huts that provided little protection from the weather.

One woman recalled that she had given birth to three of her six children in these conditions, without medical care; her youngest baby was only 3 months old. Another woman was allowed to return to her village when she became pregnant, but her husband wasn’t allowed to see her. He only met his new baby daughter after being rescued.

The families’ plight was referred to the government by the Released Bonded Laborers Association, a group of modern slavery survivors who advocate for their community and seek out families in need.

The rescue operation on August 30, 2019, was one of the first completed by new One Stop Crisis Teams, which have just been created in all 32 districts of Tamil Nadu state.

These teams are the first of their kind in India and were launched on World Day Against Trafficking in Persons (July 30) by the State Legal Services Authority (SLSA) and IJM.

One Stop Crisis Teams are designed to combat human trafficking by proactively inspecting worksites, rescuing victims, helping survivors access government benefits, and raising awareness in vulnerable communities. Each team includes a lawyer, a paralegal, a social worker and an anti-trafficking police officer, along with representatives from four government departments that address trafficking or bonded labor slavery.

“The One Stop Crisis Team is turning out to be a powerful accountability partner,” shares Merlin Freeda, IJM’s director of operations in Chennai. “This team has authority and influence over the district-level authorities, propelling them to take quick action on bonded labor cases.”

The 18 survivors in the August 30 case were freed in only a matter of hours thanks to the coordination and expertise of this One Stop Crisis Team. The families have now returned to their home villages, where they will get ongoing support and rehabilitation services from the government and the RBLA.

Photo: Survivors display their release certificates, which cancel the false debts to the slave owner and declare them as free. For many, this is their only source of ID.

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