March 20th, 2013
01:11 AM ET

Toddlers freed from brick kiln bondage

(CNN) – A flaring furnace blasts another wave of searing heat on the faces of workers hauling bricks under a southern Indian sun.

They work up to 22 hours a day propping heavy stacks of bricks on their heads. None expects to be paid for this labor. None knows how long they'll be kept here. Some are as young as three years old.

Manoj Singh was one of 149 people rescued this year from a brick kiln outside Hyderabad, India. Like millions of other Indians, the toddler was born into extreme poverty.

When CNN correspondent Mallika Kapur visited Manoj's family, now back home, he and the some of the 34 other children freed, showed her how they would make the bricks from wet clay.

"They recall from their muscle memory," says Anu George Canjanathoppil, of International Justice Mission, a non-profit dedicated to eradicating slavery around the world. "So if you ask them to explain what they did, they cannot say."

Older laborers, however, had plenty to say. FULL POST

A terrible lesson to learn
December 6th, 2012
01:29 AM ET

A terrible lesson to learn

Editor's note:  "Operation Hope" will air on CNN International on Saturday, December 8 at 0900 GMT and 2000 GMT. It will also air Sunday, December 9 at 0200 GMT and 1000 GMT; and Monday, December 10 at 0300 GMT.

(CNN) – It was the first lesson a taxi driver tried to teach me when I moved to India.

A woman cloaked in dirt-stained sari holding a child with a bandaged and blood-soaked hand knocked on the taxi window. She pointed to the child and held out her hand for money.

Filled with a combination of sadness, guilt and responsibility I began to roll down my window. “No madam!” my taxi driver implored. “This is very bad,” he continued, shaking his head ever so slightly. FULL POST

'Operation Hope' for maimed boy
December 6th, 2012
01:10 AM ET

From horror to hope: A boy's remarkable recovery from brutal attack

Now you can watch the whole of "Operation Hope", the documentary charting the amazing story of Okkhoy and the strangers who worked to help him change his life. See the video in three parts here

(CNN) - "You cannot die! You cannot die!" the father mumbles to the bloodied, mutilated boy who lies unconscious on his lap.

His hands press down on the boy's slashed-open stomach to keep the insides from spilling out. He sobs convulsively. "Listen to me! You cannot die!" he repeats his morbid mantra. "If for nothing else, to exact justice."

The two are on a rickshaw headed to a hospital in Dhaka. It's not the most effective way to transport a dying child through the cramped, congested streets of the Bangladeshi capital. But it's all that the impoverished father can afford. Hours earlier, four men had surrounded the 7-year-old boy, bound his hands and feet and cracked open his head with a brick. They held him down and took a switchblade to his throat. They sliced his chest and belly in an upside down cross. And in a final brutal act, they hacked him sideways, chopping off his penis and his right testicle.

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"It's amazing that he lived," a doctor would later say. "I'm really surprised he didn't bleed to death prior to getting to the hospital."

This is the story of a boy who not only survived, but is now the key witness in a trial that has forced Bangladesh to confront the cruel but overlooked practice of forced begging. It is also the story of strangers, half a world away, who set out to show the boy that good exists in equal measure as evil - and who set off a chain reaction of kindness to make him whole again.

FULL STORY

Labor migrants dying abroad
May 13th, 2012
05:44 PM ET

Nepalese dying to work

Kathmandu, Nepal (CNN) – Twenty-one-year-old Ramila Syangden weeps uncontrollably as she clutches her 10-month-old baby. She sits and watches as the pyre where her husband’s body will be cremated is set alight in the open Nepalese air.

Syangden never considered one of the potential consequences of her husband’s decision to work abroad. Now she can’t ignore it.

Hours before the Buddhist cremation ceremony she watched the coffin, with her husband’s body inside, arrive on a flight from Saudi Arabia where he had worked.

The paperwork says the 36-year old committed suicide there. Not a single person gathered for the cremation ceremony believes it.

“I don’t think so. He said he would go abroad, see the place, earn as much as he could for the children and come back. I think somebody killed him,“ his wife said.

FULL POST

May 4th, 2011
12:07 AM ET

Gang profits from maimed child beggars

Dhaka, Bangladesh (CNN) -  Deep scars crisscross the frail body of a seven-year-old boy at the center of a criminal case that investigators say exposes “pure evil.”

His father pulled the boy’s pants down, wanting to show the injuries that fill him with rage and anguish. His son’s penis had nearly been cut off.

“They beat me. They said they would make me beg. They would kill me,” the boy said. “I threatened to tell my father and police on them. They cut my throat, they cut my belly, they cut my penis.”

They also bashed his skull with a brick.

Investigators say members of a criminal gang were trying to force the boy to become a beggar on the streets of Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital.

FULL POST

March 11th, 2011
12:53 PM ET

From slave to village leader

In her third report in a series, CNN's Sara Sidner examines an Indian village's residents, who, once freed, are now making their own lives. One former debt slave, Pholwati Devi, was once relegated to the lowest level of Indian society but is now her local village representative,  winning an election over those who had run things in her village for generations. FULL POST

March 8th, 2011
11:28 PM ET

Fear accompanies road to freedom

Uttar Pradesh, India - Ten police officers barreled down the road, some on motorcycles, others in a jeep, their sirens left silent so as not to alert anyone. Their mission: to rescue workers from bonded labor, or debt slavery, in India.

But when they arrived at the carpet factory, it was empty except for a man inside.

It appeared that the police were too late.

As the man was questioned, officers outside discovered five children and a disabled adult who had been ushered out the back of the factory. Someone had tipped off the owner, police said.

The police took the group to the sub-divisional magistrate office, where the children reluctantly told their stories.

"We start work at 6 a.m., end at 9 p.m. at night," the smallest said. In return for 15 hours of work, they received a food allowance of just two dollars per week. “My father is dead. So I am working.”

FULL POST

March 8th, 2011
12:44 AM ET

Generations pay off debts through slavery

Uttar Pradesh, India - An army of workers, their faces encrusted with dust, toils beside a story-high pile of unfired bricks. They are helping build a new India that appears to be leaving them behind.

From sunup to sundown they spend their time pouring wet mud into molds, lugging them to the kiln, firing them and then pulling them out. For their backbreaking work, they do not receive wages.

They are working to pay off a debt.

In India they are known as bonded laborers, bound to those who gave them or their forefathers an advance or a loan. Human rights advocates call them modern day slaves.

"I cannot leave here unless I pay my debt," said Durgawati, a mother of three.

FULL POST