Following the COVID-19 lockdown in India, resumption of economic activities has led to scarce job opportunities as many daily wage laborers are in need of work. One couple, Raju* and Neelam*, managed to find work in a brick kiln. However, they were paid only $4 a week in their respective jobs, which was not enough to feed all eight of their children.
Raju and Neelam were approached by a trafficker who promised a job in Delhi for their eldest son, Sunil*, with promised pay of $80 a month. The couple had a tough decision to make, but given their situation, sending their 16-year-old son away to work seemed like the only way out. Sunil dropped out of school and traveled from Uttar Pradesh to Delhi to help carry the burden of providing for the entire family.
Sunil was determined to work. He wanted to ensure that his parents and siblings could afford at least two meals a day. However, Sunil’s hopes of helping his family were shattered once he reached Delhi. During the day, the overcrowded and hazardous facility was used to produce and package candy, while at night became a shelter for the workers. Those employed at the facility worked 12 hours a day and were paid only $2 a week in return for their hard labor. By the end of each day, Sunil was exhausted. After dinner, he would lie down to sleep beside the machines to which he had been figuratively chained.
Raju and Neelam had not heard from Sunil since he left them in August 2020. The manager at the facility did not allow Sunil to talk to his parents over the phone. Instead, Sunil worked day after day worrying about his family back home and feared he’d never see them again.
On November 3rd 2020, Justice Ventures International (JVI) and partner NGO EFICOR coordinated with the local Sub Divisional Magistrate to rescue Sunil and two additional minors from the food processing facility. Police officials were stationed at all entry and exit points to ensure the perpetrators did not escape while JVI staff isolated those working in the facility. Representatives from the labor department and the child welfare committee were also a part of the rescue intervention. The three minors were removed and taken to an aftercare home where they were treated for any injuries and tested for COVID-19.
The manager of the food processing facility was arrested. An official police complaint has been filed under relevant sections of the Indian Penal Code, Juvenile Justice Act, Child Labour Act and Bonded Labour Abolition Act. JVI’s legal team is now working on the case to ensure the perpetrator is denied bail and that justice is served.
Sunil has expressed his desire to return to his family and continue his studies. While JVI staff and partners pursue reuniting Sunil with his family, the aftercare team will work with the concerned authorities to provide rehabilitation for the survivors through various government programs including the recovery of minimum wages. In addition to monetary compensation, JVI will provide counseling to the survivors and their families and develop a plan for alternate, sustainable livelihood to ensure they do not fall prey to traffickers again.
*name changed to protect confidentiality