We are in South Asia to work with International Justice Mission (IJM) on a global effort to fight bonded labor. Bonded labor is a type of human trafficking, described by the UN as “modern-day slavery.” Frequently, a person (and even the person’s family) is entrapped into forced labor and servitude through the lure of a loan or a debt, on terms that are impossible to repay. For more on bonded labor, please see here.
IJM is an international human rights organization, founded in 1997, and staffed by Christian professionals who follow the injunction to “Seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow” (Isaiah 1:17). IJM’s mission is to protect the poor from violence by rescuing victims, bringing the criminals to justice, restoring survivors to safety and strength, and helping local law enforcement build a safe future that lasts.
IJM achieves its mission by working in partnership with local governments, with the approval and acknowledgement of the host countries, to prosecute crimes of violent oppression. Globally, IJM’s field offices in thirteen countries focus on prosecuting cases of bonded labor, child sexual trafficking, child sexual abuse, illegal property seizure, police abuse, and citizenship rights. These crimes are illegal in the countries in which they are committed, but often desperately under-enforced in local courts.
In cases of bonded labor in South Asia, IJM collaborates with the local government to investigate situations where laborers are held illegally, secure the laborers’ release through rescue operations, obtain rehabilitation benefits for the rescued, and support the criminal prosecution of those who held them in bondage. More broadly, IJM works to build the capacity of the legal system by training officials—judges, prosecutors, and the police—to develop the local institutional capability and will to recognize and prosecute this crime.
Combatting Violence: The Locust Effect
We believe that IJM is at the cutting edge of the effort to build public legal institutions to protect all segments of society, including the most vulnerable, the poor. Institutions and rule of law—in particular, functioning, accessible public justice systems—are necessary to provide stability for broadly based economic development. (See, e.g., the work of Hernando de Soto and others, who have persuasively argued for the importance of property rights and the right to engage in commerce through the formal economy). But, there is simply no secure ability to invest in a future for yourself and your family if you lack protection from arbitrary violence, whether government abuse or private criminality. IJM seeks transformation by building public justice systems that protect all members of society, but especially the poor and most vulnerable from pervasive (and often organized) violence that deprives people of their freedom, dignity, and hope.
This fundamental thesis—that effective programs to combat poverty must include operations to protect against violence—has been set forth in a pair of pieces by Gary Haugen and Victor Boutros. Gary Haugen is IJM’s founder and CEO; Victor Boutros is a federal anti-trafficking prosecutor at the U.S. Department of Justice, who serves on the DOJ’s Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit. As they contended in a 2010 Foreign Affairs article:
The absence of functioning public justice systems for the poor also jeopardizes half a century of development work, because there is no effective mechanism to prevent those in power from taking away or blocking access to the goods and services the development community is providing. Resources earmarked for aid efforts often never reach their intended beneficiaries. A World Bank study found that as much as 85 percent of aid flows are diverted away from their intended targets. To be sure, a considerable amount of the money and materials that go missing is siphoned off by corrupt leaders and high-level officials. But those resources that do reach local communities do not fare much better. Farming tools are of no use to widows whose land has been stolen, vocational training is not helpful for people who have been thrown in jail for refusing to pay a bribe, local medical clinics cannot treat bonded slaves who are not allowed to leave the factory even when they are sick, and microloans for new sewing machines do not benefit the poor if the profits are stolen by local police.
This argument is expanded in their new book, published in February 2014 by Oxford UP: The Locust Effect: Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence.
We believe that it is important for Christian communities—as well as all individuals of communities of good will—to engage in the cause of combatting violence against the poor. As a key component of its operations, IJM mobilizes Christians around the world to provide material, spiritual, and organizational support. Throughout history, religious organizations within the global church have been effective campaigners against great injustices by leveraging networks, talents, resources, and moral authority to put pressure on multiple aspects of global problems.
IJM is Effective:
IJM’s projects have undergone rigorous evaluation, and have been found to protect vulnerable individuals and build sustainable institutions that can provide protection to the poor and vulnerable in these countries. Major international foundations have provided funding to sustain and expand IJM’s operations. For example, in 2006, the Gates Foundation provided funding for IJM to open a new office in Cebu, Philippines to combat the sexual exploitation of children. After five years of IJM’s operations, an audit showed that the number of children commercially trafficked for sex had fallen by 79%. In 2011, the Google Foundation announced it would fund operations to combat slavery, including an $8 million grant to IJM for direct intervention and government-led rescue operations, and for advocacy and awareness projects.
IJM’s method and successes have been lauded for over a decade:
- “273 bonded labourers rescued in Tiruvallur,” The Hindu, June 12, 2013. This describes a rescue operation in which IJM was involved, and IJM representatives are quoted in the story.
- Mallika Kapur, “Toddlers freed from brick kiln bondage,” CNN Freedom Project, March 20, 2013.
- Nicholas Kristoff, “Raiding a Brothel in India,” New York Times, May 25, 2011.
- Samantha Power, “The Enforcer: A Christian Lawyer’s Global Crusade,” New Yorker, January 19, 2009
- Quentin Hardy, “Hitting Slavery Where It Hurts,” Forbes, January 12, 2004.
How we came to join this work:
We first encountered IJM in October 2006, when Amanda was in her first year of law school at the University of Chicago, and an alum of the law school and former IJM intern returned to Chicago to speak about his experiences with IJM. He spoke of answering God’s call to justice by working to free victims of bonded slavery. When Amanda graduated in 2009, Gary Haugen was a speaker at the hooding ceremony for law school graduates. He called upon graduates to reflect that we were “hardwired by our Maker for great meaning and purpose,” inviting us to consider finding that purpose in places where the presence of an attorney or other professional could be the difference between life and death, or between freedom and slavery. We continued to remember and reflect upon that invitation, and how we might serve IJM and its work. Eventually, we contacted IJM, and were invited to serve in South Asia in the campaign to fight bonded labor. Amanda’s work will be focused on the legal aspects of the problem, while Soren’s work will be focused on building public awareness and political will to address the challenge. For more on how you might support us, please see here.