CHENNAI, India (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - An Indian court on Monday ordered police to rescue 50 boys believed to have been trafficked from Tamil Nadu to sweet shops in western India, giving families hope of being reunited with their missing sons.
Responding to a petition filed by the father of a missing teenager, the high court in Tamil Nadu asked police to form a special team to rescue the boys and submit a report in three weeks.
"The order gives many hope," said lawyer David Sunder Singh, who represented the petitioner.
"Though it was the case of one father and one missing boy, the court in a rare instance has taken into account the plight of so many other families whose sons have not returned home."
M. Arumugam has not seen his younger son since 2013, when a "recruiting agent" paid him 1,000 rupees ($16), promised another 20,000 rupees ($310), and took Surya Prakash, then 14, from his home village of Kullalakundu.
The agent had promised the boys eight hour shifts in sweet shops, a place to stay, a monthly salary of 5,000 rupees ($78), proper food and leave to visit home, Arumugam's petition states.
"We accepted it thinking it would be good for our son's future," Arumugam states in his petition.
Prakash was one of many school dropouts from Theni, Madurai and Dindigul districts of Tamil Nadu who are trafficked to western and northern India, where they are employed in shops - deep frying snacks and making sweets, say campaigners.
In his petition, Arumugam pieced together the abuse the boys go through based on the account of his nephew, who escaped from a sweet making factory in Nashik after he was burnt with hot oil.
"The owner and his wife assaulted my son and other children many times if they did not wake up on time or if they were resting due to illness," the petition states.
The boys were not allowed to contact anyone or go home till they had repaid the advance amount - which the owner claimed was much higher than the amount the father said he had received.
He said the owner of the "muruku factory", as the workshops are known, had forced his son to work for four years.
"I last spoke to my son in January, when he told me that the owner had threatened to kill him if his cousin, who ran away after being abused, did not return to work," Arumugam said.
"Since then, there is no news."
($1 = 64.440002 Indian rupees)
(Reporting by Anuradha Nagaraj, Editing by Ros Russell; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)