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‘Modern Slavery’ by Results Advocate, Anika

I am Anika and I attended the ACFID conference and especially loved the story of how survivor-led civil society organisations are transforming their communities – the case of bonded labour in Chennai, India

Eradicting modern slavery is a vital part in attaining the sustainable goals. One form of modern slavery is bonded labour also known as debt bondage and occurs when a family tricked and/or trapped into providing hard labour. One reason this may occur is when a family is in dire need of funds to pay off debts such as medical bills and resorts to borrowing funds from a wealthy business owner. To repay this debt, which may be as little as AUD$100, the family is threatened or deceived and promised liveable conditions and a viable wage. Instead they are trafficked into indefinite hard labour in unworkable conditions with little to no wage. Additionally, they can be deprived from adequate food and sleep, barred from attending school or medical care, forced into unliveable housing and face sexual harassment and violence. Today, there are millions of people including children as young as the age of 4, women and men trapped in illegal slavery worldwide. This may inhibit and prevent them from accessing the education needed to attain the sustainable goals.

Fighting to eradicate bonded labour, the IJM (International Justice Mission) partners with local authorities and community organisations to assist the local government identify and remove victims from bonded labour and hold the perpetrators accountable. Concurrently, this strengthens the justice system. After rescue, the government provides a 2 year aftercare program which includes welfare measures such as food grains, allowance, housing, psychosocial support and rehab needs such as skill development to ensure sustainable living. Additionally, survivors have the opportunity to join the IJM goal and eradicate bonded labour which spreads helps victims find courage in reporting their bonded labours to survivors. This expands into a catalytic change towards ending modern slavery and attaining the sustainable goals.

One example of such work is the case of Vasanthi’s family in Chennai, India. As droughts across India devastated many rural communities, individuals such as Vasanthi were left with scarce food supplies and no job opportunities. When Vasanthi’s son became ill and was admitted to hospital, an additional surge of medical bills piled up with no job or wage to cover the costs. In desperation, Vasanthi and her husband accepted a small loan to help pay their bills and decided to work at a local brick factory. However, the working conditions of this factor were unbearable as they faced 18-hour days, threats, and sleep deprivation. After 3 years of back-breaking work and being separated from her children, the IJM and local authorities rescued Vasanthi and her husband in 2012. Today, Vasanthi has graduated from the 2 year aftercare program and is now working towards educating her children.

And what about us? What can we do to eradicate bonded labour? We as consumers can be aware of the products that are made through modern slavery and use this information to spread awareness and restrict purchase and support of these brands. Through these actions we can all assist in ensuring the sustainable goals are achieved.

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