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South Asia

Who picked your Valentine’s day roses?

“Whenever I see roses now, I can’t help but think of the boys that we’ve rescued. I’m wondering whether they were picked by young boys … The joy of seeing the roses is tainted a bit now.”

Reena, IJM India staff member

The facts: slavery and cut roses

  • Australia imports a large amount of flowers each year because local production can’t keep up with demand. [1]
  • Most cut roses sold in Australia are imported from Kenya, Ecuador and Colombia. However, Australia also buys up to 18% of India’s cut rose exports. [2]
  • IJM has conducted several rescues from rose farms – most of the survivors have been young boys, like Mallesh.
  • 10 million children are estimated to be in slavery today, while 152 million are estimated to be in some form of child labour – 71% of them work in agriculture. [3]

The story: Mallesh

Mallesh was just 8 when he was enslaved at a rose farm. He was forced to work from 6am to 11pm for no pay. His days would begin and end with herding and feeding cows, while in the heat of the day, he had to pluck and pack rose blooms, and tend to the buds. There was no school, no family, no friends. No childhood.

His little hands developed blisters and scars. The pain was exacerbated by the chemical fertiliser Mallesh used to care for the roses.

After 5 brutal years, Karnataka officials and IJM rescued Mallesh and four other boys. He was taken to a shelter home where IJM helped him fulfil one of his biggest dreams – going to school!

Mallesh in class.

Against the odds and many teachers’ expectations, Mallesh became a star student, gaining fluency in reading and writing Tamil, even a little English.

We were also able to support him with counselling and encouragement and it was beautiful to see him connect especially well with one of our staff members, Venu.⠀


Mallesh is now 20 years old. In July 2020, he graduated from Year 12 and is preparing to pursue his next dream – ending child labour!⠀

“When I saw my results, my confidence soared. I know I can do anything. Imagine putting a full stop to child labour!” says Mallesh.

Your choice this Valentine’s Day

Around Valentine’s Day, a single red rose sells for upwards of $50, bouquets from about $150.

Instead of purchasing roses that might have been picked by enslaved boys like Mallesh,

  • for $50, you can fund the equivalent of immediate medical care and nutrition for a newly rescued child, helping them enter their new life in freedom with healthy bodies;
  • for $150, you can fund the equivalent of a simple thatched home for an entire family that has survived slavery, helping them to get back on their feet and live safely and independently.

“Whatever is beautiful is not life. Life is how beautiful we make it for others.”

Mallesh, survivor of slavery

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