One Indian State Takes Strides to End Slavery by Equipping Law Enforcement

On September 26, 2013—
“Enforcing the law is good for obvious reasons: The violence stops; criminals are restrained from harming others. But it’s impossible to enforce a law without first understanding it.

For the first time, forced labor slavery is included as a form of human traffick
For the first time, forced labor slavery is included as a form of human trafficking in the training curriculum for all state-level constable police.

IJM Chennai trains police officers on India’s laws against forced labor slavery—providing comprehensive information on the crime as well as best practices for investigations and rescue operations. Kuralamuthan has been working for IJM Chennai since 2008 to raise awareness about the existence of slavery in his country. He says exposing officers to the reality and severity of the issue has been eye-opening: “Several of the police we’ve trained are astonished when we teach them about forced labor slavery.”

Understanding That Forced Labor is Slavery

Experts estimate that millions of Indians are held in forced labor slavery. Though this form of human trafficking was officially outlawed in the 1970s, many authorities still do not recognize it as a human rights abuse, addressing it instead as a labor offense.

This year, IJM began training two important groups of police officers in Tamil Nadu (the state where IJM Chennai is located): specialized officers in the newly formed Anti-Human Trafficking Unit (AHTU) and constable-level officers going through basic training at the Police Recruitment School of Tamil Nadu.

Changing How The Law is Enforced

Because of previous trainings IJM has led for police officers, the Anti-Human Trafficking Unit invited IJM to develop and lead a training for more than 500 police officials and NGO representatives in January 2013. This specialized unit was formed in 2012 to address human trafficking crimes, and they are also specifically charged with tracking the number of people rescued from forced labor slavery.

After the training, the anti-trafficking officers said their perception about forced labor was turned upside down. Before, they did not think of forced labor as human trafficking. In fact, some thought it was a legitimate way of doing business.

IJM’s Kuralamuthan explains: “These officers have received calls from brick kiln owners who complain about their laborers running away, but they never thought it might be a case of forced labor.” The police officers said they assumed the owner, as the business man, was always in the right. Now they know what questions to ask to determine whether the owner is running a legitimate business, or if laborers are “running away” to escape slavery. “These trainings are the changing the ways that the police enforce the law,” Kuralamuthan adds.

The impact after IJM’s training was immediate. Within a month, one of the officers who attended the training identified and investigated a case of forced labor involving two children.

Equipping the First Responders

Around the same time, IJM Chennai learned that the state’s official training academy for police, the Police Recruitment School, was planning to revise its curriculum to include more information about forced labor slavery. IJM helped lead a workshop for 600 officers going through basic training in July 2013. IJM will continue providing training at locations in the area where we work, and the revised curriculum means that all constable-level officers in the entire state will learn about forced labor slavery. These officers are the first responders to most crimes and the police force IJM works with most frequently on rescue operations.

The fact that forced labor will now be taught as a form of human trafficking and human rights abuse is incredible progress from when IJM started working in India more than a decade ago.

According to Kuralamuthan, the long-term impact of law enforcement officers receiving proper training on the crime of forced labor slavery from their official training school will be profound: “The only way we can end the practice of forced labor slavery in my country is if the law enforcement takes it on aggressively. So this training at a foundational level is incredibly encouraging.””

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