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South Asia

1,400+ Children Rescued from Bonded Labour in One Month by Police in South Asia

January 2023

SOUTH ASIA – Over 1,400 children were rescued from bonded labour slavery this January during the ninth edition of Operation Smile. Operation Smile is a month-long initiative by police in South Asia to rescue, rehabilitate, and reunite missing or trafficked children.  

Police also arrested 390 suspects who forced children to work in diverse industries—including sewing factories, religious spaces, mechanic shops, brick kilns, construction sites, cattle farms, jewellery factories, and tea stalls. More than 200 children were rescued from dangerous brick kilns alone, with some victims as young as six years old.

Throughout January 2023, officials in South Asia rescued children from bonded labour in diverse industries, including cattle farms.

In addition to those rescued from labour exploitation this year, authorities also supported another 1,400 children in vulnerable conditions on the street. Efforts are underway to reunite the children with their families or help them recover in safe aftercare shelters. 

History of Operation Smile

Every January and July, police work with government units and local non-government organisations to inspect worksites, interview children and bring victims to safety. Officials are also trained to sensitively interview children living on the streets and upload data to the nation’s missing children database.

From 2018 to 2023, state authorities have rescued more than 7,600 children from bonded labour and hundreds more from vulnerable conditions. 

IJM and Operation Smile

IJM has supported Operation Smile in South Asia as an expert consultant since 2018. In 2022, IJM launched a new program to support initiatives like this that help strengthen the government’s ability to protect vulnerable people. 

This year, on the invitation of the state government, IJM staff supported police with Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) on safely freeing children and documenting evidence against suspected traffickers.

IJM supported police on SOPs such as the completion of Release Certificates that break any false debts to the owner.

IJM and our local casework partner, Foundation for Sustainable Development, also provided tactical advice when law enforcement officials needed help on rescue operations or the repatriation of children who had been trafficked from neighbouring states.

We look forward to supporting Operation Smile again in the future, as officials in South Asia continuously strive to make child protection a priority and a success.

Now is the very best time to join the fight. You can send rescue by giving $35 or more every month. You will not only rescue people from slavery — you will also walk with them until they are fully restored. Sign up now.

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