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40 People Freed from Bonded Labour at a Road Construction Site

HYDERABAD, India – Last month, IJM’s casework partner Foundation for Sustainable Development (FSD) supported the local government in bringing 40 people to safety from bonded labour. The 40 individuals, including 11 children, had been in bondage for two years constructing a major highway.

These labourers had been trafficked from villages across the state of Telangana and were being forced to work near the city of Hyderabad. They had all come from India’s Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, which are protected people groups who are often disadvantaged and vulnerable to exploitation.

The trafficker who lured these 40 labourers to the worksite had been operating with impunity for decades.

One victim says she had worked for him off and on for 25 years, and another had known him for 12.

The site owners used debts to control and manipulate the labourers. They charged high interest rates and added new charges—even fining workers for being sick—and never let the workers see their accounts. They also forbid the labourers from leaving to find other work, meaning they could control and exploit them for years.

As they worked, the families also endured harsh living conditions, with crude houses that often flooded and poor-quality food provided by the site managers. If anyone complained, they were verbally abused or beaten until they stayed quiet.

Staff from FSD heard about the ongoing exploitation at the construction site and alerted local officials who could rescue the victims. Because these officials were unfamiliar with bonded labour, FSD helped review India’s laws and the standard operating procedures used to rescue people from abuse like this.

On June 19, the government assembled a team who arrived at the worksite at 7:00 a.m., and quickly interviewed the labourers to confirm the truth, and then brought all 40 people to safety at a government office. Officials then took the victims’ detailed statements and helped them access medical care and COVID-19 tests.

Officials helped transport the victims back to their homes, where FSD staff will help in their long-term rehabilitation.

In addition to their aftercare, FSD will also follow up with the government on Release Certificates for the labourers (to break their false debts and help them secure government benefits) and in filing a police case against the men who abused them.

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