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The Born to be Free project, run by World Vision, began in 1998 with 13 villages in the district. The motivation for starting the project was a boy called Pattinathar. Pattinathar was bonded to make beedis but he kept running away so his boss had beaten him and shackled his legs. World Vision workers heard about him and were shocked to see his legs chained together. They arranged for him to be released and then they began investigating how many other children were being treated this way.

Handing over the bonded amount to free a child
Handing over the bonded amount to free a child

Born to be Free workers meet with the family of the child labourer before they are freed. The workers assess the family’s needs and financial situation. It’s important that the family agrees not to bond their child to work again. This can be a difficult decision if the family has come to depend on the child’s income. However, if they agree, the workers help them find ways to achieve this.

At the release ceremony the Born to be Free project issues the bonded amount to the family so they can repay the moneylender. The ceremony is an important time for the children. They light a lamp to symbolise their freedom and hope for a better future.

Sometimes the community holds a special march to celebrate when a group of children are released at the same time. This helps to raise awareness in the community about what is happening.

Settu had been going to school for two years when his mother got sick. The medicine cost $75. Settu’s parents only earn $1.75 a day so they couldn’t afford this. Their only option was to borrow money from the moneylender who charged 15 per cent interest per month.  In exchange, Settu was bonded to work at the beedi factory until the debt was repaid. He stopped going to school and worked 12 hour-days making beedis. He earned about $1 a day.

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Settu is free again.
Settu is free again.

When Settu was 8, the Born to be Free project workers heard about his situation. They arranged to pay back the money his parents had borrowed. He was released in a ceremony with two other child labourers.

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