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South Asia

Trafficked Boy Escapes, But Returns to Rescue His Friends

On a busy day last November, Manikandan took one last look around the dingy snack factory where he’d worked for nine years and decided it was time to escape.

With the owner and his wife distracted by a local festival, Manikandan had a brief window to sneak away. Before leaving, he promised the other boys working as slaves in the factory: “I will come back for you.”

Manikandan then slipped away and made a nine-month journey home to reunite with his family after nine years in slavery—but he didn’t forget his promise. On 23 July 2019, he led local Indian officials and IJM’s NGO partner back to the factory to rescue his friends and ensure the abusive owner was arrested at last.

Escaping a Lost Childhood

Manikandan had been forced to live and work at this abusive factory starting in 2009, when he was just 11 years old. The factory owner recruited boys from Manikandan’s village by giving their families loans just 2,000 rupees (about A$42). He then trafficked the boys to another state.

Under this debt bondage, Manikandan and the other boys worked 13-hour days making fried Indian snacks in the small, cramped factory. If they made mistakes, the owner burned them with a hot iron rod or beat them up with ladles and sticks.

Often, Manikandan said he was subjected to verbal abuse that made him feel worthless. In nine years, he was never allowed to visit his parents, and his rare phone calls with his mother grew increasingly desperate.

Out of this despair, 20-year-old Manikandan made the daring decision to run home to his family in a neighbouring state. His nine-month journey across two states relied on the kindness of strangers and part-time work, but he finally arrived back into his mother’s arms on 16 July 2019.

“I am so happy!” his mother had said as she hugged and kissed him. “All that I ate in the past nine years did not satisfy me. Today we will have a feast as my son has returned in good health.”

Returning to Rescue His Friends

Manikandan was thrilled to be home, but he was steadfast in wanting to help the other boys like him. He and his parents reported their case to IJM’s local partner Child Voice, who started working with IJM and district officials to stage a rescue operation at the factory.

On 23 July, the team entered the facility to free three boys still working there, all aged between 14 and 16. The factory owner and his wife were arrested the same day and charged under India’s anti-slavery and child protection laws—a huge victory thanks to proactive local authorities. IJM commends these officials for working quickly on an expertly coordinated interstate operation in just a matter of days.

All of the rescued boys, including Manikadan, have been given Release Certificates, which break the false debts the slave owner used to control them. Officials also bought them clean new clothes and will give the boys additional funds to help in their ongoing rehabilitation.

Once the rescue operation and follow-up were complete, officials helped the boys return home to their parents. They were all joyfully reunited on 27 July.

Today, Manikandan is safely making up for lost time with his family, and IJM and our partners are celebrating this young man’s remarkable bravery to free himself and others from modern slavery.

Read more about this operation in The Hindu and The Times of India.

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