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Three Brothers Freed from Slavery over Father’s Debt

After 13 years of hard labor in a brick kiln, three brothers are now free from debt bondage and modern slavery after a rescue operation led by south Indian authorities, IJM and our grassroots NGO partner on February 21.

This family had become trapped in the brick kiln after their father took a loan from the owner in 2005. His debt was originally just 70,000 rupees (about $1,200 at the time) but, due to the owner’s manipulation, it had ballooned to 200,000 rupees in ten years (almost $3,000). When their father died in 2015, the three brothers inherited this burden and lost hope of ever repaying the owner.

Throughout that time, the brothers were forced to work 14-hour days to mold, fire and haul the heavy clay bricks. They endured poor living conditions and constant harassment from the kiln owner and his henchmen.

Now ages 24, 19 and 15, the brothers bravely decided to escape the kiln with the elder brother’s wife and baby. They hid for months until the owner’s henchmen began threatening them. They managed to report their case to IJM Chennai’s local NGO partner, Thendral Movement, before they could be taken back to the kiln.

On Thursday, IJM and local authorities assisted Thendral staff in getting the brothers to safety and documenting the abuses they had faced. The brothers have also received release certificates, which break the false debts the owner claimed. IJM and Thendral Movement will help the brothers adjust to life in freedom and begin normal lives. Local law enforcement have filed charges against the alleged slave holder.

This successful rescue operation was especially rewarding due to the proactivity of the local government. The lead government official in this case (called the Sub Collector) had been trained by IJM on how to respond to bonded labor slavery. In recent weeks, he had even led proactive sweeps of similar brick kilns to find families in need of rescue.

“This sub-collector took genuine interest to listen…and understand the laborers, and he was moved,” says IJM’s Prakash Rao. “He ensured they got release certificates and ensured the Labor Department followed up with rehabilitation funds. It is good to see the Revenue and Labor departments working together for the sake of the laborers.”

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