The CNN Freedom Project has worked for more than two years on the illegal yet widespread practice of bonded labor in India and now has published a story about the rescue of 149 slaves from a brick kiln — some of whom were as young as 3 years old.
As the article notes, “slavery today exists for two reasons: greed and desperation. It’s greed on the part of landowners and illegal recruiters. And its desperation for the tens of millions of people who are willing to take a risk to improve their lives, no matter how long the odds.”
CNN’s Leif Coorlim, Mallika Kapur and Sara Sidner report:
(CNN) – A flaring furnace blasts another wave of searing heat on the faces of workers hauling bricks under a southern Indian sun.
They work up to 22 hours a day propping heavy stacks of bricks on their heads. None expects to be paid for this labor. None knows how long they’ll be kept here. Some are as young as three years old.
Manoj Singh was one of 149 people rescued this year from a brick kiln outside Hyderabad, India. Like millions of other Indians, the toddler was born into extreme poverty.
When CNN correspondent Mallika Kapur visited Manoj’s family, now back home, he and the some of the 34 other children freed, showed her how they would make the bricks from wet clay.
“They recall from their muscle memory,” says Anu George Canjanathoppil, of International Justice Mission, a non-profit dedicated to eradicating slavery around the world. “So if you ask them to explain what they did, they cannot say.
Older laborers, however, had plenty to say.
According to reports from IJM investigators at the scene, one pregnant woman claimed she was kicked by her manager, when she pleaded for rest. A man had raw wounds so deep that the bone showed through.
The workers’ grueling schedule permitted little time for eating. After being freed and having a full meal, many of the malnourished workers vomited.
“We had to work 18 to 22 hours a day,” Manoj’s father, Lucky Singh, told Kapur. “We didn’t get time to eat or to bathe. One day, I dozed off. Then the boss came and beat me with a stick.”
Lucky says he ended up at the kiln because he was desperate to provide for his impoverished family.
When a recruiter came to his small village in Odisha state in eastern India, near the Bay of Bengal, he willingly went on the promise of a $400 advance, which became a $400 debt – and they were locked into working to try to pay it off. They couldn’t leave without permission and wouldn’t be told when, or if, they could ever pay off their debt.
Bonded labor in India is the most prevalent form of slavery in the world today. It was declared illegal in India in 1976 but persists. A vast majority of India’s workers scrape together a meager living through informal, unregulated work contracts, making them more susceptible to unsafe working environments and exploitation.
Read the rest of this inspiring article and watched a related video by clicking here.
Working alongside the Indian government, International Justice Mission has carried out dozens of raids the past six years in India freeing more than 3,200 people.