When one 9-year-old boy saw a group of other kids being forced to work at a water treatment facility near his home, he knew exactly who to tell: His dad, Raja, who works at IJM to combat modern slavery.
“You go everywhere and rescue people,” he said, “why can’t you send these boys home?”
His instincts were right, and Raja quickly reported the potential slavery case to a child labour helpline and his IJM colleagues.
On June 21, the team joined government officials to investigate the facility—a place where thousands of Chennai families get their drinking water—and what they found was shocking.
Five teen boys and one young man had been trafficked to the facility from northern India. They had to use chemicals to make water drinkable and then bottled it for sale. Due to high demand, they were being forced to work nearly 24 hours a day in appalling conditions, leaving them wounded, exhausted and terrified. Some had been enslaved for five years.
Raja describes, “This is one of the most gruesome cases we have come across. The boys were overworked…and their hands and feet were injured from working with strong chemicals used to treat the water…One of the boys said he had asked to speak to his parents but was beaten up, so they were scared to ask for anything.”
Local officials documented the evidence of brutality at the water treatment center, then helped the boys move quickly to a safe location. The boys could barely stay awake to share their testimonies, and they soon fell deep asleep after getting warm meals and a place to rest.
Police have filed charges against the facility owner and his accomplices, and they are working on arresting these suspects in the coming weeks. Officials also shut down the water treatment facilities and locked their doors.
The rescue operation tied in with a fresh commitment from the Tamil Nadu state government to protect children after World Day Against Child Labour, which took place on June 12.
Once the operation was completed, authorities brought the boys to a short-term aftercare shelter to rest and heal. Next, IJM will help the boys return to their homes in northern India and will provide long-term rehabilitative care.