Recently, during the COVID-19 lockdown in India, JVI and one of its local partners secured orders from the National Human Rights Commission directing local authorities in the state of Uttar Pradesh to free bonded laborers trapped in forced labor slavery in a brick kiln.
The local authorities took action, bringing freedom to 67 children, women and men. The victims were transported back to their homes of origin and to aftercare programs where they will receive supportive services from JVI and our local partner.
The victims suffered physical abuse, verbal abuse and restriction of movement. They were not paid their statutory minimum wages for long hours of work. A meager amount of Rs. 600 (approx. $8) was paid per family per week in the form of “khuraki” (subsistence allowance). The weekly “khuraki” was calculated based on the number of bricks made per week and the size of the family. A family was expected to make 1,200 – 1,500 raw bricks each day. Failure to do so lead to deductions to the weekly “khuraki”. The victims worked from 3 am until 9 pm each day.
All 67 victims were made to share 3 open toilets which were often dirty and unhygienic due to shortage of water. The sole source of drinking water was placed beside the toilets from which they were forced to drink. They were denied access to medical facilities even to the point where infants suffering from diarrhea and other diseases were not treated. Additionally, five female victims were pregnant and forced to work.
On May 29th 2020, the government provided two buses to return the survivors to their villages in Jehanabad and Gaya in Bihar. For the journey back home, JVI provided all survivors with masks and briefed them about the social distancing norms. Once these buses reached their respective destinations, the survivors were screened for symptoms of COVID-19 and were provided with meals before they were sent to quarantine centers. Some of the survivors returned home and isolated themselves as the allotted quarantine centers were not functional.
JVI is working with law enforcement agencies to file a formal police complaint and ensure the perpetrators are held accountable for their deeds. The JVI aftercare team are continuously following up with the survivors to ensure they are following isolation protocols and address any other concerns they may have during these unprecedented times. The team ensured that the pregnant women working at the brick kiln were given medical attention at government facilities. The families received rations from the PDS (public distribution system) on behalf of the government. The JVI team is also gathering relevant documents to help open bank accounts for the survivors while developing individual rehabilitation plans for each family to ensure they can find work to sustain themselves. The Labour Department carried out physical verification of the survivors in both districts of Bihar.
In the many months ahead, as the central and state governments struggle to contain the immediate health and economic challenges from COVID-19, NGO’s like JVI and our local partners will play a key role in responding to the needs of vulnerable men, women and children.
Once the lockdown is lifted and normal manufacturing activity resumes, factory owners will look to cover their financial losses by employing cheap labor. Desperate and vulnerable populations of workers will provide a massive supply of that labor. From our experience in working labor trafficking cases, we know a large number of these laborers will be children. These children will be sent across the country to work in manufacturing units where they will be paid meager to no wages, and face physical, mental and even sexual violence.
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