More than 150 children, women and men are now free from bonded labor slavery already this year, thanks to the tireless collaboration of IJM staff in Bangalore and local government officials.
In February and March alone, IJM supported six rescue operations to free 161 people across the state of Karnataka, in southern India—three at brick kilns, two at silk-worm factories, and one at a dangerous construction site.
IJM’s director of operations in Bangalore, Indrajeet Pawar, describes, “Through this string of cases, our aim was to highlight the spread and prevalence of trafficking for bonded labor across the state…Through collaboration, the government was able to unravel hidden cases of bonded labor in different industries and bring freedom to lives trapped in oppressive conditions of bondage.”
Some of the rescued families were from nearby areas, but many had been trafficked from poorer states like Odisha and Chhattisgarh. They were often tricked with the promises of good jobs, but were instead forced to work and charged false debts to keep them trapped.
Laborers in all six cases reported grueling work days, inadequate food or water, and frequent physical and verbal abuse. Children as young as 4 years old were often made to work alongside their parents.
Several women also reported sexual abuse or threats from the slave owners, as one 30-year-old woman explained, “We were afraid of the supervisor because he used to harass and abuse us when he was drunk…We would complain to our husbands, but when they questioned him they were beaten.”
Disturbingly, confinement was also used in several of these cases as punishment for the laborers. One woman had reportedly not left the silk-worm factory in 7 years other than to deliver her baby. IJM found another woman who had been locked in a room and forced to work for nearly six months.
“I was deeply moved when I saw her and her 3-year-old son locked up in that room,” one IJM staff member shared. “They started crying desperately and pleading with us to take them out. It is hard to get that image off my mind.”
Officials arrested have suspected slave owners in two of the operations and are continuing to follow-up on the others. Charges will be filed under India’s anti-slavery, anti-trafficking and child protection laws.
Authorities have also provided the eligible laborers with release certificates—which break their false debts to the owners—and rehabilitation funds to help them resettle in freedom. IJM will support all 161 rescued people in our two-year aftercare program, which helps them re-establish health, dignity and independence.
The string of successful rescues and proactive government response gives IJM great hope for a real impact on the spread of human trafficking in Karnataka.
“Reducing the prevalence of bonded labor necessitates a robust public justice system that prevents the crime and protects the poor from violence,” Pawar explains with enthusiasm. “In 2019, the stage is set for the government to lead and sustain change.”