Magazine article New Internationalist

Slaves Shake off Their Shackles: Dramatic Rescue Bids for Exploited Children

Magazine article New Internationalist

Slaves Shake off Their Shackles: Dramatic Rescue Bids for Exploited Children

Article excerpt

IT was the workers from Free the Children India (FTC) who rescued Gopal - from a West Bengal mechanical workshop near the Bangladeshi border. They rescue thousands of children from exploitation each year. In Gopal's case, his employer had paid $25 to his family, living on the rural outskirts of Calcutta. In exchange, Gopal was taken to the workshop and worked 15 hours a day, six days a week for 60 rupees ($1.50). He was only nine years old.

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FTC received a tip-off from a community worker who, while getting her car serviced, noticed the child's ill-health and maltreatment: his untreated skin infections and poor eyesight from exposure to the flying sparks while he helped fix rickshaw bicycles. For the next four weeks, FTC went undercover and investigated the daily operations of the workshop - times of work, number of staff, entrances, windows, lighting and the exact layout of workshop. Together with local authorities, they executed a rescue plan, breaking into the workshop at night via a window located next to where Gopal slept. He was woken to the bright lights of torches and several people whispering: 'You are safe. We have come to free you.' He was then whisked to the sanctuary of the awaiting FTC van. The operation took under three minutes. The employer has since been charged.

'At first I didn't understand what was going on, then I realized someone had answered my prayers. I cried all that night. I just kept thinking "I am free" ', recalls Gopal. …

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