(Photo: Ruth Malhotra)
Christian human rights organization International Justice Mission has helped free 273 forced laborers in the nation of India this week in what is the second-largest anti-slavery operation that IJM has been involved in.
Working with local authorities, International Justice Mission was able to successfully remove slave laborers from two brick factories located in Chennai on Tuesday.
Saju Mathew, IJM director of Operations for South Asia, told The Christian Post about the history of the group's efforts regarding human trafficking. "IJM has been working with local authorities to fight human trafficking in South Asia since the organization was established in 1997, with IJM's first field office dedicated to combat labor trafficking opening in 2001," said Mathew.
Mathew also described what the typical operation looks like, which involves receiving reports of forced labor and then collaboration with local authorities. "IJM social workers are also on-site throughout the rescue operation, and will continue working with the laborers over the next two years to ensure they receive key social services such as job training and education," said Mathew.
"A critical aspect to the rescue operation is holding the perpetrators accountable for their crimes – this is what will truly ensure the public justice system effectively protects the poor."
Slavery is illegal in the Republic of India, as seen with the Bonded Labour System Abolition Act of 1976. The Act defines what constitutes forced labor, which can include being given a wage below the official minimum.
According to the Indian publication The Hindu, the recently freed laborers described the conditions they were forced to work in. "Huddled beside Dhanbad Express at Chennai Central station on Tuesday evening and clinging to their meagre belongings, they recalled the difficult working conditions in the kilns, where even children were made to work," reports the publication.
"After seven months of working close to 17 hours a day for six days a week at a place nearly 1,200 kilometers away from their home districts of Bolanghir, Naupada, Barghar and Nabranghpur districts in Odisha, the labourers on Tuesday night boarded the Dhanbad Express for a day-long journey home."
When asked by CP what would be needed to weed out forced labor in the subcontinent, Mathew of IJM said "it will take a national response from the government."
"From the civil society side, we're seeing numerous local organizations from different sectors networking across the country. Their coordinated efforts to collectively address the issue of forced labor is starting to yield great results," said Mathew.
"Holding perpetrators accountable for their crimes is an immediate first step to address the issue of forced labor that will have a long-term impact. IJM has found in our 15 years of casework that the more the laws on the books are enforced, the more the dynamics in communities change."