Collaboration and Justice

This week we're featuring a guest blog from IJM UK (one of our partners). Abi Wells, Regional Development Assistant, writes about the broken justice systems and the problems this brings to millions of people around the world.

What would you do if you were a victim of a crime? Like most people, I expect your automatic reaction would be to call the police – and you would expect them to come and help. This is because we live in a country with a functioning justice system, where criminals are very often held to account and where resources exist to restore and protect the victims.

And yet, for so many in our world, this is not the reality.

When Chandan and his family boarded a train bound for Bangalore, they had no idea that the wage and security he had been promised by a businessman was a ploy to enslave the entire family in a brick kiln. From 3am to 7pm, seven days a week, Chandan, his wife and his children were forced to make bricks. They received one hour breaks for food and 300 rupees per week – only enough to feed the family small portions of rice each day. They all sustained injuries but were never allowed to go to hospital. The children were beaten with a pipe if they were caught playing rather than working. For Chandan, his wife, his children and the seven other families trapped in bonded labour in this brick kiln, their suffering continued for months.

Thimma Reddy Brick Kiln

Thimma Reddy Brick Kiln

Individuals like Chandan face injustice daily, with the threat of violence part of their everyday life. The justice systems that should protect them, don’t. Police, prosecutors, judges and social workers often cannot or do not deal with this sort of violence in their communities.

Why not? Officials may have limited resources available to them, causing them to focus instead on the people and areas society deems the most valuable - wealthy areas or businesses - leaving the poorest people exposed to crime. Basic training in appropriate investigative techniques and evidence gathering, essential for building strong cases against perpetrators, can be missing. Weak accountability can lead to corruption.

Where justice systems do not protect the poorest people, perpetrators commit crimes with little fear of punishment. In India, despite laws that make slavery illegal, there are an estimated 18  million individuals held in forced labour just like Chandan.[1] International Justice Mission (IJM) identified fewer than 5 perpetrators who spent any substantial time in prison for this crime between 1998 and 2013.[2]

So, what can be done? Despite the bleak picture, IJM is in fact proving that justice systems can be transformed. Broken justice systems are not beyond repair. By pushing individual cases through the system, IJM can identify the areas that are broken and work with local officials to fix them, treating the source of the problem rather than just the symptoms. In turn, this makes justice for the poor possible, and sustainable. This is essential if we are to end the culture of impunity.

IJM has seen great change in the areas where we have worked with justice system officials. In Mukono County in Uganda, officers often couldn’t help widows threatened by violent property grabbers because they couldn’t reach victims’ rural homes. IJM provided motorcycles to enable officers to reach victims quickly and easily. In Cambodia, IJM has trained hundreds of officers on all aspects of implementing Cambodia’s anti-trafficking laws through teaching survivor-centred interview techniques, correct evidence-gathering protocols and how to work with the community to address the problem of trafficking. When corruption is a problem within a police force the solution is not no police, but good police. It was clear that there was corruption among some street-level police in the Philippines that was preventing the enforcement of anti-trafficking laws.

Mumbai Police training

Mumbai Police training

Four months after they had been trafficked and forced into slavery, Chandan and the other victims were rescued. IJM entered the brick kiln with the Anti-Human Trafficking Unit (AHTU), local police and government officials. That day, the children, women and men who had been subjected to unimaginable treatment gained their freedom, and one of the perpetrators was arrested. “Their pain and just the loss of dignity and shame was so apparent”, said one IJM staff member on the scene. “The moment the government asked them to collect their belongings they ran, grabbed their belongings and ran to the vehicle parked to take them away to safety.” Each victim was later issued with an official release certificate – confirming them free of all debts and free from slavery.

As more cases like Chandan’s unfold, we see that slowly the culture of impunity is ending.

The word is out that bonded labour owners are going to jail…” said IJM Director. “[Chandan’s] case shows that those fighting for good, for freedom — like our IJM team and the AHTU officers — will not back down. The only option for these perpetrators of violence is to cease and desist.


Abi Wells

Regional Development Assistant, IJM UK


[1] Global Slavery Index estimates that there are 18,354,700 people living in modern slavery in India alone.

Global Slavery Index, India,

[2] International Justice Mission, How we work, When a justice system doesn't

work, crime increases: