You are young and pretty, with wide eyes and an appreciation of beautiful things, so when an aunt invites you to go with her to the markets in the big city, of course you want to go. Why wouldn’t you? But when you end up in a brothel, betrayed by someone you thought cared about you, forced to do things you don’t want to do, sexually and physically abused, your dreams have been smashed to pieces. A 12 year-old girl sold by your aunt for a few rupees into a life of prostitution from which there may well be no escape. This is a true story. It is repeated time and time again in India.
Whether girls are enticed, deceived or kidnapped, many of them find themselves locked up in a brothel and forced to have sex with clients. If they try to resist, they may be beaten mercilessly with belts, sticks or iron rods until they submit. If that doesn’t work, they may be forced to drink alcohol until they are drunk, or drugged in other ways, and given to the client while unaware. So begins a life of slavery.
Every day, these girls are forced to have sex with between 10 and 25 customers, but the horror doesn’t end there. Many ‘owners’ want to breed the girls. Their sons become bonded labourers, and their daughters become prostitutes. In addition, the owner now has hostages to force the mother to cooperate. Keeping the children away from their mother brings emotional and mental pressures.
This is a form of modern slavery. Official figures show that there are 3 million prostitutes in India, and of these 1.2 million are children. Although most sex-trafficking is to supply girls for brothels, increasingly trafficking is taking place for pornography, including filming and live feeds for the internet.
The vast majority of those trafficked for sex are Dalits. Most trafficking is internal to India, much of it being interstate, but there are also large numbers of Dalits - women and children - trafficked into India particularly from Nepal and Bangladesh.
Panel photo: RACHEL ROBICHAUX. Used by kind permission.