A dramatic rescue operation this week brought two young boys to freedom in southern India, ending years of their mother’s desperate searching.
Valli had been apart from her four sons since separating from her husband six years ago. He threatened her never to contact them. She had no idea that he sold them in to bonded labor slavery—for about $30 each—to repay his own debts.
From then on, Valli’s sons worked 12-hour days at various duck farms far from their hometown. It was exhausting, isolating and filthy work. They had no time for school or play. They wanted to leave, but had no idea how to find their way home.
After her husband died several years ago, Valli was able to reunite with two of her sons. She learned the other two were still rearing ducks, so she began traveling on her own across the state, looking for any duck farms that could lead to her boys.
This month, she finally found her sons working at the duck farm where they had been sold. The owner refused to let him go, no matter how hard she begged.
Desperate, Valli brought her case to the Foundation for Sustainable Development, an IJM-trained grassroots NGO working to end bonded labor slavery in Tamil Nadu state.
IJM supported FSD and local officials in coordinating a rescue operation on November 12 to free Valli’s 11-year-old and went back the next day to another farm for her youngest.
It had been six years since Valli had seen her boys. They were thin and weak from exhaustion, but their reunion was joyful and emotional.
FSD staff has helped enroll both boys in a residential school, where they can begin catching up on the childhood they missed. Valli says of her elder son, “He has grown tall, but looks weak due to lack of proper food. I want him to study well and make it big in life.”
Local officials have filed charges against the duck farm owner who exploited the boys, and FSD will continue to support the legal case and the boys’ rehabilitation.