Women and men were visibly shaking with fear as IJM and local authorities rescued them from a brutal slave owner on Wednesday. Today, they are finally safe as this man waits in jail to answer for his crimes.
The 15 people rescued from this wood-cutting facility all told similar stories of how they became trapped here: Coming from a desperately poor community nearby, they had borrowed small loans from the wealthy owner—as little as $15—in exchange for chopping wood in his facility.
But as this man charged more and more false interest on their debts, they had become trapped from four to eight years trying to repay him. This is called bonded labour slavery.
One rescued slave shows callouses and scars from years of heavy labour.
Children, women and men were brought to safety for the first time in years.
The flagrant abuse of power here extended far beyond these false debts. The rescued families shared how their life in the facility was a constant cycle of fear, exhaustion and abuse.
For weeks at a time, they were forced to work 12-hour days cutting 15 to 16 tons of wood. Then, they toiled all through the night to load this wood for sale. If they worked too slowly, the owner ridiculed and beat them mercilessly. They were never allowed to leave the facility and weren’t even able to build shelters. Instead, they slept in an open field before starting their labour the next morning at sunrise.
One man says the owner sliced his hand with a sickle when he worked too slowly. Another woman was nine months pregnant and still being forced to chop wood in the hot sun when the rescue team arrived.
IJM heard about the desperate conditions these labourers were facing and worked with District Administration officials to mobilise a rescue operation on August 24. As they brought the families to safety and heard their stories, local police formally arrested the abusive facility owner. He will soon face trial for his crimes.
The District Administrator patiently interviewed each worker before issuing release certificates that set them free.
Police arrested the slave owner who forced families to work for years.