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Scared and Scarred: 11 Rescued from Street Food Factory

Over the weekend, IJM supported local officials and NGO partners in rescuing two men and nine teen boys from bonded labour slavery at an urban factory near Chennai. They had been trapped since June 2018, making fried pani puri, a street food popular in north India.

These impoverished men and boys were recruited from their village with loans of as little as 2,000 rupees (about £21 GBP), which they were meant to pay off with their labour. Instead, the factory owner charged them impossible interest rates and controlled their every movement so they could never repay the debt.

He verbally abused them and beat them viciously if they slowed down during the 18-hour work days—ensuring that they were always afraid of his power.

IJM and local authorities learned of the ongoing abuse when one enslaved man managed to escape. He reported the conditions to a grassroots NGO called Manav Sansadhan Evam Mahila Vikas Sansthan (MSEMVS), which partners with the global network Freedom Fund. IJM was called in to support these partners and the local government in conducting a successful rescue operation on Saturday, 12th of January.

Officials found the boys exhausted and working in terrible conditions at the factory.

IJM’s Sam Jebadurai describes, 'The boys looked famished. They had been working for approximately 18 hours a day and were physically abused using a wooden stool or a ladle or whatever was handy. They had burns and scars from working with hot oil in hazardous conditions.'

As the case documentation stretched late into the night, one local official described, 'The boys fell at my feet asking me to take them out of the workplace, and this is driving me to sit even at this very hour with them.'

By the next day, authorities had documented all the boys’ stories, granted them release certificates to break their false debts, brought in doctors to treat their wounds, and made plans to help them return home to north India.

Jebadurai adds, 'After they had lunch given to them by the District Administration, they ate and fell asleep. They slept in peace at last knowing they will be free and can go home finally!'

The main owner of the factory has absconded, but police are pursuing his arrest. A second accused has been taken into custody and charged under India’s anti-slavery and child labor laws.

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