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South Asia

Predatory Debt Used to Exploit 19 People in Railway Construction

GOA, India – Nineteen people (including four children and a 72-year-old woman) have been rescued from a railway construction site in the state of Goa through the work of local NGOs and government officials.

They had been forced to work at this site since about February, after they were trafficked from their home state of Telangana. They were given a payment advance (from A$550 to $1380) and promised a salary of 6,000 rupees per month (about $110), which is below the minimum wage but was a major draw for families living in poverty. However, the site owners used these advances as debt bondage to keep the labourers trapped for months.

Couple denied a wedding

Every day, the women and men were forced to work more than 10 hours each day and could never leave the worksite. They were forced to live in unhygienic conditions, without proper shelter or toilets. One young couple was denied permission to return to their hometown for their wedding, and they were dragged back when they tried to escape.

As the abuse went on, the site owners added more and more charges to the labourers’ debts—ballooning the debt to an amount they could never repay. One woman was being forced to work to pay off a loan taken by her husband, who had died three months ago. She had the highest debt of all the victims.

IJM’s partner Foundation for Sustainable Development (FSD) heard about the workers’ plight from community members and then worked alongside a local anti-trafficking NGO with expertise in Goa to bring the case to the government for action. On August 4, they joined the District Administration on a rescue operation at the worksite to confirm the truth of the labourers’ exploitation and bring them to safety. Back at the government office, they interviewed the survivors in-depth about their experience and how they had been exploited.

$3727 paid in owed wages

The government ordered the site owners to pay 200,000 rupees ($3727) in owed wages to the labourers and arranged for them to return home safely. As these survivors resettle in their hometowns, FSD staff will walk them through a rehabilitative aftercare program to help them overcome trauma and learn to avoid predatory work in the future.

Read more about this rescue operation in The Hindustan Times, The Indian Express and The Times of India.

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