It was the day that 25 families in Lakhminiya village in Bihar had dreamed about for decades. A breakthrough that would give them self-sufficiency, protecting them from trafficking.
Their village used to be a haven for traffickers. But recently, these destitute, low caste families finally received the official hand-over of what is called “Bhudan land.”
In the early years of India’s independence, the country’s ambitions of social justice included the reallocation of land on a voluntary basis from landowners who were holding huge acreages. Then, as now, the unfair distribution of land left families unable to grow enough food, often causing them to fall under the complete control of whoever could give them work. Initially the Bhudan system worked well in many places, with poor families gaining freedom and sufficiency through the transfer of small plots of land. But over the decades, without legal protections for low caste families, much of the land was taken back by later generations of powerful landowners.
When the Bihar team of the FTS frontline partner organization MSEMVS asked village residents about the reasons young people were being trafficked into slavery, the issue of land rights surfaced again. Villagers said that getting Bhudan land back would give them economic security and help them avoid risky migration for work.
For six years, the MSEMVS team has worked tirelessly with families in Lakhminiya, as well as with several other groups of landless families in the same district, to bring the state’s Bhudan office into action after decades of dormancy.
MSEMVS worked with families who already had some documentation of their land rights to get up-to-date official confirmation from the state capital.
Now, the first group of 35 families has received approval of their Bhudan land – between 10 to 20 acres per family. MSEMVS believes it’s a first step for hundreds of families in Bihar to gain their rights to land.
Learn more about our projects in India on the FTS website India page.
Free the Slaves is excited to congratulate Catherine Russell on her new position as Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues. In a joint letter sent to Russell last week, FTS and other groups expressed our eagerness to work with her to bring an end to the global problem of child marriage.
Child marriage affects millions of girls and their communities. An estimated 14 million girls are married before the age of 18 every year, according to the Girls Not Brides USA coalition. As a recently recognized form of slavery, child marriage harms young women and girls, as well as the economic development of their communities. Without child marriages, girls are more likely to stay in school, have fewer and healthier children, and contribute to the economic well-being of their families and communities.
During her confirmation hearing, Russell stressed the importance of addressing child marriage. In our joint letter to the ambassador, FTS emphasized that civil society organizations can be valuable partners and resources for her initiatives at the Office of Global Women’s Issues.
Free the Slaves has focused attention on the impact of child marriage and other forms of forced marriage in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) through a groundbreaking investigative expose, Wives in Slavery: Forced Marriage in the Congo. This report chronicles firsthand accounts from forced marriage victims and survivors. Free the Slaves DRC Coordinator Jack Kahorha notes that forced marriage can be reduced by “strengthening the judicial system, improving schools and services, increasing support for community education, and scaling up practices to raise awareness about forced marriage.”
We are looking forward to working with Ambassador Russell to raise awareness and bring child marriage to an end.
Boys as young as 12 are working with dangerous chemicals to extract gold dust from ore. Girls as young as 10 are prostituted in mining camps and are pushed into relationships with older men.
These deeply moving stories of children losing their childhoods and freedom to violence, hard labor, prostitution, and sexual abuse are some of the key findings of recent FTS research on child slavery in Ghana’s gold mining regions.
The investigation was part of our 18-month Child Rights in Mining Project. Free the Slaves and our on-the-ground partners in Ghana, Participatory Development Associates and Social Support Foundation, conducted qualitative research into modern forms of slavery, including child sex trafficking and the related and overlapping problem of hazardous child labor.
Researchers aimed to document the dynamics of exploitation and abuse of children in Obuasi, Ghana, where informal small-scale and artisanal gold mining occurs. Ghanaian human rights groups have been concerned for many years about the enslavement and exploitation of children linked with so-called “galamsey” mining sites, which are sites where unlicensed informal mining takes place, but very little research has been carried out in this area.
Read the research report summary here.
- Build the capacity of state institutions responsible for child protection.
- Provide adequate resources to state institutions, such as the Department of Social Welfare.
- Enable community groups within the mining areas to develop community action plans through which local residents identify steps that can be taken to address sexual abuse and exploitation of children.
- Form active and well-trained child protection groups in each community to help identify local risks to children and act to protect them.
- Clarify procedures for reporting cases of sexual abuse and exploitation.
- Ensure the effective enforcement of criminal laws against child slavery, sex trafficking and sexual abuse, worst forms of child labor and other forms of child exploitation.
- Disseminate regular messages to local residents about children’s rights, child slavery and sex trafficking, hazardous child labor, child labor slavery and sexual violence.
These recommendations are intended to guide local facilitators as they assist community groups in demanding adequate child protection responses from government. They provide a reference point for community advocacy with local officials to demand that they meet their obligations to curtail sex trafficking, child labor slavery, hazardous child labor and other forms of child exploitation in Ghana’s informal mining communities.
As a result of the research, FTS and its partners produced a series of three booklets to educate community members. The stories in these booklets focus on three themes that emerged from the research: the importance of good parenting, the dangers of child labor, and the existence and root causes of sexual violence against children.
The booklets have been used with more than 350 participants in 25 learning groups led by trained community facilitators. The groups met weekly or bi-weekly to discuss the illustrated stories and how to take up ways to reduce sexual violence and child labor and protect children.
An evaluation of the pilot project was recently concluded. It showed profound results in successfully shifting community attitudes about the rights and protection of children, resulting in the removal of children from situations of slavery and hazardous labor. A detailed report of the pilot project will be released soon.
Read more about FTS work in Ghana here.
As the school year begins, it’s important to recognize that teaching is a profession that often requires bravery. But one teacher in India, Daulati Kumari, brings a special kind of bravery to her classroom.
Daulati escaped slavery only a few years ago, and now she teaches children in a Free the Slaves program in communities where slavery is rampant.
Daulati was kidnapped by a man who had offered to take her to a doctor. Instead, she was sold into a forced marriage and enslaved for five months. Her parents alerted volunteers affiliated with MSEMVS, a frontline organization that receives funding and training from Free the Slaves. They went to court to force local police to help.
After Daulati was free, she enrolled at the Free the Slaves Punarnawa Ashram, where survivors recover and prepare to return to normal life. She studied hard at the ashram’s school, and when she was ready, she decided to join MSEMVS as a teacher.
“I never imagined that I would teach children,” Daulati says. “I learned a lot in the ashram.”
She’s seen as a local hero at small schools in isolated communities where violent thugs enslave families and traffic children.
“They are intelligent kids,” she says, but formal education “is difficult because they have never been to school. I sit with each child, and hold their hand.”
Daulati knows the risks she is taking. But she also knows that without education, children are vulnerable to slavery. She is an emerging leader in a growing movement to create a generation that will live in freedom.
That is what sets Free the Slaves apart: we are building a movement of survivors, of people around the world who are standing up to slaveholders. Last year alone, we helped free more than 1,750 slaves and educated more than 14,000 community members how to resist slavery.
Daulati is doing her part. Will you do yours?
Please consider making or renewing your donation to Free the Slaves today. Our program is working, but without support from you, slaves wait. End the wait. Make a gift. Help us build a future without slavery.
There are many words around the world for slaves and slavery. In Finland, the word is orjat. And it’s on the cover of the FTS book Ending Slavery, which is now available in Finnish.
In Ending Slavery, FTS Co-founder Kevin Bales outlines what’s needed to eradicate slavery once and for all – with concrete steps to be taken by faith communities, corporations, governments, foundations, international institutions and anyone who wants to end one of history’s greatest abuses of human rights.
“Read Kevin Bales’ practical and inspiring book, and you will discover how our world can be free at last,” says South African Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu.
Now, people in Finland can do just that.
“Finland is a small country, but it is world leader in peace-making, social policy, and successfully caring for its citizens. With focus and energy, it could become the first truly slave-free country and show the rest of us how to really end slavery,” Kevin says.
Research for Ending Slavery was based largely on FTS field projects and advocacy initiatives around the world. As author, Kevin won the 2011 Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order from the University of Louisville.
Former U.S. President Bill Clinton held up his copy of Ending Slavery at the Clinton Global Initiative conference in New York, telling audience members that the book is an invaluable blueprint for ending slavery.
“It is a problem we can solve, and here’s how to do it,” Clinton said.