Many people assume that slavery is a shameful relic of the past — but right now, there are an estimated 50 million people trapped in modern-day slavery worldwide. Human trafficking is a multibillion-dollar business built off the back-breaking labor and sexual exploitation of men, women and children.

Partners like International Justice Mission (IJM) work with local authorities to rescue victims of human trafficking, provide the aftercare they need to rebuild their lives and pursue justice that will prevent this violence from happening again. Centering the voices of those who have lived through it is critical to end human trafficking and enable survivors to heal. Many survivors find purpose by working with IJM to advocate for those who are in the same situations they once were.

To honor World Day Against Trafficking in Persons, celebrated July 30, read on to hear three stories of human trafficking survivors who are using their experiences to make an impact in their communities. Then, support the work of IJM and other organizations on the frontlines of the human trafficking crisis by giving to the End Human Trafficking Fund.

Kumar: Social Worker

When Kumar was just seven years old, an abusive kiln owner forced him into slavery over a small debt incurred by a relative. He endured arduous conditions and torture for two years before the kiln was freed in 2003 with the support of IJM.

With much perseverance, he completed secondary school, worked with an IJM team in South Asia for four years and earned a bachelor’s degree in commerce. But when he thought about all those still stuck in bonded labor, he knew he wanted to do more.

Kumar obtained his master’s degree in social work, completed a field internship with the Released Bonded Laborers Association (RBLA) and now serves as a Community Development Social Worker with IJM. He feels he is able to rewrite the stories of others like him as he helps survivors obtain the services they need and advocates on their behalf in government meetings.

At his wedding to his college sweetheart in 2022, IJM staff who had helped Kumar as a kid attended to celebrate this joyous milestone.

“Had I not been rescued, my life would still be in the deep pit of darkness, and my next generation and the generations to come would have been in complete darkness,” he said.

Satyaban: Advocate and Village Councilor

On March 3, 2016, in IJM’s largest ever operation, 564 men, women and children were rescued from a brick kiln in South Asia. Laborers at the kiln toiled day and night to make bricks and suffered verbal abuse and assault, with little to nothing to eat and abysmal living conditions.

Satyaban and his wife were two of the hundreds who were freed. They participated in IJM’s restoration program and learned about the government benefit programs they were entitled to. Satyaban is now a farmer, growing watermelon and vegetables on land that he has leased.

Satyaban plays a big role in his community and was recently elected to serve on his village council. He’s also a leader for his local chapter of IJM’s RBLA, which draws awareness to the evils of bonded labor and provides support to other survivors.

“My family is my driving force,” he said. “I wish to provide them with all that is possible and never let any harm befall them.”

Gowri: Survivor Leader

Gowri knows how to be an effective leader with the RBLA because she lived it herself. For nearly 10 years, she and her family were forced into bonded labor for a woodcutting unit in South Asia, enduring grueling labor and immense cruelty. IJM rescued the workers at this facility in 2010, and Gowri participated in its two-year aftercare program to heal from the trauma of bonded labor.

When IJM needed a community field worker in her area, Gowri did something unprecedented at the time: she became her community’s field worker, dedicating her life to rescuing every single bonded laborer. Today, Gowri is an RBLA survivor leader who helps others get the services they need, lobbies the government and provides key insights based on her experiences.

She also earns money as a domestic worker in a household that treats her well, produces crafts to sell and teaches those skills to others.

Gowri is thriving outside of work as well, as a mother, a grandmother and a leader in her community.

“No one should be a bonded laborer,” she said. “No one should suffer like how I suffered. No one should be oppressed. Like how I am happy today, they too should be happy.”

You can join Gowri, Satyaban and Kumar to make a difference for victims of human trafficking. Be a global champion and give to the End Human Trafficking Fund to support leading charities fighting to end human trafficking worldwide.