Rescuing child laborers through factory raids

Overview

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The South Asian Coalition on Child Servitude (SACCS)

In India, the South Asian Coalition on Child Servitude intervenes physically to rescue child laborers.

The South Asian Coalition on Child Servitude (SACCS) organizes raids and rescue operations to liberate child laborers. A conglomeration of more than 400 human rights groups throughout South Asia, SACCS aims to eradicate bonded and child labor.

The International Labour Organisation says that there are more than 60 million bonded child workers in India. These children are denied their fundamental rights to childhood, to education, to fair remuneration and to adequate health care and living conditions because they are forced to work more than 12 hours every day. Most of them are held as slaves in factories where they are subjected to beatings and widespread disease.

Since its inception in 1989, SACCS has addressed this problem using a two-pronged strategy that involves both direct and indirect action. SACCS Direct Action Rescue Operations are planned raids against industries known to use child labor. After receiving tips that identify an industry using child laborers or being approached by parents whose children have been taken into bondage, SACCS organizes its own teams, families of stolen children, local supporters and a few policemen armed only with sticks to forcefully free the children. They open the factory doors that lock the children in at night and remove the children before the owner is alerted. In order to secure police protection the local administration is informed about the impending raid beforehand, but exact details are never revealed so as to avoid collusion between the administration and the industries.

After the children are liberated, their official release certificates must be secured from the local administration. Because the administration is sympathetic toward the industries this can take a long time. The children are then introduced to SACCS rehabilitation programs that provide free education before being returned to their families, when that is possible. Through its direct action raids SACCS has released more than 65,000 laborers from servitude in the last two decades.

SACCS intervenes directly at the site of the abuse: the factories where children are being held as slaves. Their actions not only rescue thousands of children, but build community awareness of the problem when word gets out about the freed children and the conditions in which they were held. Their actions also make it impossible for the government to continue to be complicit in child labor. Once made aware of the problem and SACCS’s intended action, the government can no longer protect the factories without being publicly exposed.

This is also a dangerous tactic that could have repercussions for the children and the community, forcing the factories to hide the problem even more deeply or to move to another area. The SACCS team members may themselves be in physical danger and must plan for a number of contingencies. But when a problem is this extreme — whether it is child slavery, human trafficking or unlawful detention — there are sometimes people brave enough to take that danger upon themselves.

 

New Tactics in Human Rights does not advocate for or endorse specific tactics, policies or issues.

What we can learn from this tactic: 

There may be other types of exploitation situations where this kind of tactic might be considered (see this example from Bangladesh).  However, it is important to recognize the high risks involved, to both victims and to those seeking to rescue them.  Revealing the problem may result in those hiding it even more deeply or moving to another location. When a problem is this extreme — whether child slavery, human trafficking, unlawful detention or another violation— there are sometimes people brave enough to take the dangers upon themselves. One important aspect to the success and safety of carrying out this tactic was the police involvement and cooperation. Alerting the local authorities and gaining their cooperation prior to conducting the raid was important for ensuring the safety of the victims, but also in deescalating potential conflicts with the violators in order to prevent deadly conflicts. Adherence to nonviolence of the citizens carrying out the rescue effort was essential. 

Another critical risk assessment is needed when working in situations where corruption, especially within the police force and other law enforcement structures, is high. Since their cooperation is necessary for protection, this tactic will not work if the police are invested in the exploitation issue (such as child labor). For more ideas on how to engage police officers to protect human rights, see these tactics in Brazil and Nigeria. The protection and safety of the victims must be the foremost priority. Follow-up tactics are necessary to ensure that victims receive needed services.