Families Stunned as They Are Freed from Bondage in Wood-Cutting Facility

Author: International Justice Mission

Category: News

Families Stunned as They Are Freed from Bondage in Wood-Cutting Facility

Chennai, India, 31st March 2017

Local officials, police and IJM staff helped rescue three families from years of bonded labour slavery today, leaving the men, women and children in delighted shock as they were suddenly ushered into freedom for the first time.

These families had been held in bondage at a wood-cutting facility, some for up to 7 years. They were trapped by threats of violence and false debts the owner used to trick them into servitude.

By day, the owner forced the families to work constantly, chopping down trees and thick, thorny bushes. At night, they were left to sleep in an abandoned, unfinished home, which provided cover from the elements but not much else.

One rescued mother described how she had to deliver her baby in this dirty house because the owner didn’t allow her to visit a hospital. He let her deliver her next child in a clinic due to complications, but no one else was permitted to go with her.

The thorn-scarred hands of a man rescued from bonded labor slavery at this wood-cutting facility.

In total, officials and IJM helped rescue 12 people, including three boys and a 5-year-old girl. Two elderly women, both barely able to lift anything, were among those freed as well.

The owner of the facility was taken into police custody and will be moved to a prison once charges are officially filed.

The Revenue Division Officer, who oversaw the operation, was deeply moved when he saw the young boys who had been forced to work. He looked at their battered palms and reflected sadly, “At an age when they should be holding pens [in school], they have thorn scars.”

During the rescue, the families were very timid and barely spoke unless it was necessary. One IJM staff member said she didn’t see any of them smile until they boarded a truck to return to their home villages. Then they clasped their hands in gratitude and waved goodbye as they left.

Police take a man into custody for holding 12 people as slaves.

Protected for Their Future

Immediately after the rescue, the RDO gave each freed labourer a Release Certificate, which breaks the false debts that kept them in bondage to the facility owner.

One man said he still felt obligated to repay his debt, but the officials patiently explained that now he was free and no longer owed anything to the owner.

The RDO also explained how these release certificates allow the families to access various government benefits, like basic tools, housing support and employment, and he encouraged them to be persistent with their local leaders to ensure they were being helped.

Victims rescued from bonded labour slavery are also entitled to 100,000 rupees (about £1,200) rehabilitation funds from the government. These families received 1,000 rupees each today, and IJM staff will help follow up on the remainder of the funds so they can rebuild life in freedom.

IJM staff also help get the families warm meals and medical care and will help them return to their home village. From here, the families will be invited to join IJM’s two-year aftercare program, which will give them ongoing support and equip them with skills to stay free and build a safe future for their children.