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IJM Supports Indian Police Free 1,401 Trafficked Children in a Month

TELANGANA, INDIA – IJM supported Telangana police as they rescued as many as 1,401 children from bondage during a month-long operation in January 2023. IJM worked as an expert consultant to develop a standardized process for safely rescuing children and building a strong legal case against their traffickers.

The police call this twice-annual event "Operation Muskaan" which translates to English as "Operation Smile".

Telangana police also arrested 390 suspects who forced children to work in diverse industries—including sewing factories, religious spaces, mechanic shops, brick kilns, construction sites, cattle farms, jewelry factories, and tea stalls. More than 200 children were rescued from dangerous brick kilns alone, and some victims were as young as 6 years old.

In addition to those rescued from labour exploitation this year, authorities also supported another 1,400 children in vulnerable conditions on the street. Efforts are underway to reunite children with their families or help them recover in safe aftercare shelters.

Nine years of fighting to abolish child labour results in the freedom of over 7,600 children

Operation Smile is an annual program from India’s Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and Ministry of Women and Child Development (MWCD). All Indian states are encouraged to participate, but Telangana has consistently led the way with twice-annual drives since 2018.

Each January and July, police work in coordination with government agencies and relevant local NGOs to inspect worksites, interview children, and bring victims to safety. Officials are also trained to sensitively interview children living on the street and upload their data to the nation’s missing children database.

From 2018 to 2023, state authorities have rescued more than 7,600 children from bonded labour and hundreds more from vulnerable conditions.

Back in 2019, the Deputy General of Telangana’s police had shared boldly, “As we can confidently say that we have rescued these children, over a period of time we must ensure that we can confidently say to our community and citizens that we have fought to abolish child labour, child exploitation, bonded labour, or child trafficking for safe communities…It’s our God-given opportunity for us to save them.”

IJM supports police by developing a standard process for rescuing children

IJM has supported Operation Smile in Telangana as an expert consultant since 2018, either directly or through our local casework partner Foundation for Sustainable Development (FSD). In late 2022, IJM launched a new state program in Telangana to support initiatives like these that help strengthen the government’s ability to protect vulnerable people.

This year, on the invitation of the state government, IJM staff supported police by creating standard operating procedures for safely liberating children (like how to complete a Release Certificate that breaks any false debts to the owner) and for thoroughly documenting evidence against suspected traffickers.

IJM and FSD also provided tactical advice as needed when law enforcement officials needed help on rescue operations or for repatriating children who had been trafficked from neighbouring states. We look forward to supporting Operation Smile again in the future, as officials in Telangana continuously strive to create a safer state for children.

Read local media coverage of Operation Muskaan/Smile in The Siasat Daily, Telangana Today, and The Hindu.

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