Tamil Nadu’s Chief Minister M.K. Stalin has ordered a detailed study and crackdown on child labor across the state after a remarkable rescue operation that freed four young brothers from bondage at a goat farm.
These four boys (ages 6, 7, 8 and 9) had been “bought” from their family by a wealthy farm owner in Thanjavur district. He paid 25,000 rupees each for the older boys two years ago, and then just 6,000 each for the younger two last year (about $820 USD total).
This man had preyed on their family’s desperate poverty—amplified by the Covid-19 pandemic—and convinced the parents to let the boys work. He forced the brothers to look after 500 goats in a vast rural area and later re-sold the two younger boys to other farmers. They all had to walk barefoot across rough terrain to graze goats, often with just one meager meal of rice gruel each day. They had no contact with the outside world and lacked many social skills for kids their age.
On December 4—after enduring frequent physical violence from the owner—the two elder brothers escaped to find help. They met a local man who turned out to be a survivor of bonded labour himself. He connected the children to SHED India, IJM’s casework partner in the district, who worked with local authorities to rescue them.
On December 5, SHED India staff supported district officials on an operation to confront the owner and rescue the two younger boys. He initially denied knowing where they were, but officials were persistent until the missing boys were found. They gave the four brothers formal Release Certificates, which break their bonds to the farm owner and entitle them to government benefits and protection going forward.
From there, the case then made the front page of The Times of India on December 14, which brought it to the immediate attention of state-level officials and the Chief Minister. He has directed the State Social Welfare Department to carry out a thorough study of the area and conduct urgent rescue operations to free other children from abuse.
Then, on December 16, the farm owner was officially arrested and will soon face charges for child labour and human trafficking, among other offences.
One IJM staff member shared, “Government officials in Thanjavur exhibited sheer determination and excellent coordination with the sole aim of rescuing the four minor siblings. We have often witnessed offenders going to any extent to retain their workforce. But today, we see government officials stand their ground without counting the cost until every person is rescued and brought to safety.”
She added, “In addition to this, we see the state government take immediate action to launch a crackdown and a study to assess the situation. This is indeed a heartening snapshot of transformation in Tamil Nadu’s justice system.”
Today, the four rescued brothers are being counselled and cared for at a shelter home until they can be reunited with their parents. They are receiving medical care for the cuts and bruises on their feet from the hard work. Because they had experienced severe isolation and malnutrition at such a young age, they require intensive care to successfully rejoin society.