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On World Day of Social Justice, Celebrating Two Forced Labour Rescue Operations

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on Feb 20, 2015

A young child mixes mud to make bricks just before IJM and the Anti-Human Trafficking Unit (AHTU) showed up at a brick kiln near Bangalore to free 25 bonded labourers.

International Justice Mission assisted in rescue of 333 bonded labourers near Chennai; 25 near Bangalore in past two weeks

February 20, 2015
Today, on World Day of Social Justice, International Justice Mission celebrates two sizeable rescue operations occurring in the past two weeks. Last week, IJM assisted in the rescue of 333 bonded labourers from a single brick factory in the Tiruvallur district of Tamil Nadu, near Chennai. This was the second largest operation that IJM has ever assisted in, the first being a rescue of 512 people from a single Indian brick factory in 2011. This week, IJM assisted in the rescue of 25 bonded labourers from another brick kiln in Karnataka, near Bangalore, where children as young as five were forced to make bricks all day.

 "The fact that government officials have taken the lead in these rescue operations is a game-changer,” explained Saju Mathew, IJM Vice President of Operations for South Asia. "When we started working [in India] a decade ago, officials either hadn’t heard of bonded labour or denied that it existed in their state. Operations like these would have been unimaginable.”

In order to create long-term change in broken justice systems, IJM partners with local governments and communities to meet urgent and long-term needs with the end-goal of reliable, effective and self-sustaining local justice systems that protect the poor from violence.

In both cases, the forced labour slaves were brought from Odisha, a state where traffickers prey on vulnerable people living in poverty by offering jobs and an advance loan, only to trap them in bonded labour by using violence and other scare tactics, as well as charging exorbitant interest on the initial loan that keeps them indebted to the owner.

Up until the point of rescue, the forced labour slaves were living in horrendous conditions. In the Tamil Nadu brick kiln, survivors told officials that they had been verbally and physically abused by the factory owner, forced to carry enormous loads of bricks on their heads, and paid only $1-$3 for a 7-day work week—barely enough to buy plain rice to feed a family.

"We were always compelled to carry more bricks,” said one of the survivors name Ganapathi. "The supervisor would hurl abuses at us if we carried less than 10 bricks on our heads. Even the women and children had to carry heavy loads of bricks.”

In the Karnataka brick kiln, families faced constant violence, were refused medical care, and were not allowed to leave the factory—even for holidays or family funerals. One survivor, the father of a 5-year-old boy who was also made to work in the factory, described the brutality:

"I have been here four months, but it feels like four years,” the survivor said. "The owner would not give us enough wood to cook. My son was hurt on the head and he started bleeding badly and his shirt was covered in blood. Still the owner would not take him to the hospital.”

Both the Tamil Nadu and Karnataka brick factory owners have been arrested.

The Global Slavery Index estimates that there are nearly 36 million held in modern day slavery today to include forced labour and human trafficking. According to Siddharth Kara, India has the largest estimated number of people in forced or "bonded labour” slavery of any country—between 10.7 and 12.7 million.

See a behind-the-scenes Skype interview about the Tamil Nadu rescue with IJM Chennai's Alice Suganya.