Set Them Free

One hero saves the lives of thousands of enslaved children in India

By Karen Fragala Smith

It has been 152 years since President Lincoln brought an end to slavery in America, setting free more than three million souls. It is agonizing to consider the treatment they endured, and yet there are places in the world where acute poverty and corrupt governance allow the inhumanity of slavery to persist to this very day.

As you are reading this, thousands of children in Southeast India are descending into rock quarries where they work long hours each day. They live in slave colonies, dress in rags and subsist on meager scraps. Physical torture and sexual assault are rampant. Children who are seriously injured while harvesting stones are left without access to medical care, and for them, death is the only way out of a life of untold degradation.

So how can it be that India, the world’s largest democracy, with the sixth largest GDP, allows quarry owners to hold children as indentured servants with impunity? Although slavery was abolished on Indian soil in 1843, it is critical to note that the existence of a law and the enforcement it are two separate matters. India’s rock quarries have been a huge industry for decades, and its owners operate like a mafia. They have local law enforcement on their payrolls, and they coerce anyone who questions them.

One day in 2007, a young pastor stopped by some quarries in response to reports he had been receiving about neglected children being held there as slaves. What he saw, and his subsequent response to it, has changed the direction of more than 14,000 lives to date and gave the abolitionist movement in India the powerful voice it needed.

To protect the identity of the young pastor who routinely receives death threats from quarry owners we’re going to refer to him as “Mr. C.” Tall and handsome, with kind almond eyes and shiny black hair, Mr. C graduated at the top of his class in seminary school and is a third generation Christian minister who leads a network of about 7,000 village pastors throughout India. It was through this network that reports of children in quarries first began to surface.

“When I saw the kids working inside the quarries and also the girls who didn’t have proper clothes, I cried,” recalled Mr. C. “I decided to go inside the quarries to help build relationships with the kids and to share the gospel, to feed them with what I have in my hands, and also to give them used clothes from the churches.”

At first the quarry owners welcomed Mr. C’s assistance, because the food rations he provided saved them the trouble of feeding the children themselves. But in 2012, India’s enforcement policies began to shift, and numerous quarries were forced to close (government officials starting enforcing slave labor laws, which forced quarry owner to release children). Thousands of children were freed from bondage, and Mr. C and his team of pastors did their best to provide homes for as many as possible. (Thousands were reunited with families, Mr C and pastors housed children with nowhere to go).

Mr. C’s efforts started to get international attention through social media, and when an American couple named David and Marcy Moorhead learned about Mr. C on Facebook, they were compelled to take immediate action. They teamed up with finance expert Henry Van Dyke and founded the Set Free Alliance. Through rigorous fundraising, the group has raised $10 million in the past five years, enabling them to provide for the basic needs of Mr. C’s burgeoning family of 1,600 (over 6,000) children.

To learn more or to donate to Set Free Alliance, visit


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