With thousands trafficked in the United States and millions enslaved abroad, cries for justice and freedom ring out clearly to those who lend an ear. The oppression of the vulnerable resonates with the hearts of those who call the enslaved dignified and valued, even when their rights and freedom of choice have been violated and stripped away.
International Justice Mission (IJM), a revered partner of Purchased, is one organization that has been responding to the cries of the oppressed on the front lines in the battle to end modern-day slavery for the past 15 years. “International Justice Mission is a human rights agency that brings rescue to victims of slavery, sexual exploitation and other forms of violent oppression. IJM lawyers, investigators and aftercare professionals work with local officials to secure immediate victim rescue and aftercare, to prosecute perpetrators and to ensure that public justice systems — police, courts and laws — effectively protect the poor” (International Justice Mission, 2012).
With sixteen offices throughout Asia, Latin America, and Africa, IJM’s influence is far-reaching (International Justice Mission, 2012). IJM gives meaning to local human rights laws by collaborating with state and local authorities to ensure victims receive support and perpetrators receive appropriate legal sanction. IJM’s work is inspired by its fervent commitment to answer the Bible’s call to justice in Isaiah 1:17 which states, “Seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow” (NRSV, 1989). IJM investigators, lawyers, and social workers respond to individual cases of abuse and confront “… aggressive human violence: violence that strips widows and orphans of their property and livelihoods, violence that steals dignity and health from children trafficked into forced prostitution, violence that denies freedom and security to families trapped in slavery” (International Justice Mission, 2012).
One recent effort made by IJM in partnership with the Association for Rural Development (ARD) in Chennai, India restored freedom to more than thirty people enslaved as forced laborers working under inhumane, abusive conditions at a catfish farm. Among their number were children, two pregnant women, and a family that had been hidden before the rescue team arrived in the fish farm owners’ attempt to maintain their servitude. For decades the slaves were forced to harvest catfish by wading into man-made pools, using maggot-infested chicken carcasses as bate. IJM’s Anu George explains that the slaves “had to rip chicken intestines apart with their teeth, to use as catfish feed, and then get into the pond containing the gruesome waste to catch the fish” (International Justice Mission, 2013).
With legal documents confirming their emancipation, the men, women, and two children sense the weight of their newfound freedom. Release certificates afford them government benefits, monetary compensation, and freedom to finally return to their home villages. The road ahead promises further work for IJM and ARD as they continue the process of restoring dignity and livelihoods to those from whom it was robbed through inhumane, unsafe work.
This case is one among countless others in which IJM accomplishes its vision “To rescue thousands, protect millions and prove that justice for the poor is possible.”