Many of the questions we get revolve around the same thought: How did these people get into this situation?
It’s a fair question; most of us coming from developed countries can’t fathom the idea of being a slave. Yet, it is a reality for more than 30 million people in the world today.
Of course, there is no universal answer. Every slave has their own story and there is no one solution for the problem. However, we can give a general outline of what one class of slave experiences, and this is the forced prostitutes of India.
There are currently 2 to 3 million prostitutes operating in India’s sex industry, with many of them underage and working against their will. The following is a general narrative on how young girls are trafficked from Nepal to the brothels of India. It is not a story of any one particular person, but rather an example of how girls can be forced or tricked into a life of slavery.
Young girls are commonly acquired in the rural villages of Nepal, where education and work opportunities are scarce to non-existent. Some are simply abducted, forcibly taken from the village by traffickers.
More commonly however, the traffickers will trick the families of the young girls.
In these rural villages, giving birth to a son is a celebration, while giving birth to a daughter is seen as a burden. Sons will be educated over daughters, with families opting instead to send the daughters into labour to cover their cost of living. This culture gives traffickers the opportunity to strike.
Traffickers will tell the family of the girls that they work for a rich family in the “city” who are looking to hire housemaids. The trafficker will assure the family that the girl will be well taken care of, given a room and clothes, and that the girls will be able to send money back home to help the family get by. To sweeten the deal, the trafficker will often offer an upfront payment. Unfortunately, this upfront payment is enough to convince the family to send their daughter to the city. The payment is usually 1000 Nepali Rupees, or about $12. Once the deal is done, the girl has officially been trafficked.
After the trafficker has completed the deal with the family, they often then look to on sell the girl to another trafficker, who will then transport the girl across the Nepal-India border. The initial trafficker will sell the girl to the next for somewhere between $30 and $100, depending on the looks and age of the girl.
The next task for the new trafficker is to get the girl from Nepal to India, which means crossing the border. The border between India and Nepal is about 1,750 km long, leaving plenty of room for traffickers to avoid detection from border patrols.
Surprisingly though, a number of traffickers will pass through border checkpoints with the girls. The girls are told to say that they are either the daughter or, more commonly, the wife of the trafficker.
At this stage, alarm bells should ring for the border patrol officer. Child marriage is illegal in Nepal, with the legal age of marriage currently being 20. Given that most of the girls trafficked are under this age, the trafficker should be arrested for child marriage—the truth of trafficking emerging after.
Yet, questions are rarely asked. This could be due to the Nepali culture of child marriage; it could be that the officer doesn’t care. Either way, the girl will shortly find herself in India and the mortifying sex industry it is renowned for.
Here, in the red-light districts of Kolkata, Mumbai, Pune, and numerous other Indian cities, the girls reach their destination. They are sold one last time to the brothel owner—the price again dependent on their age and looks—and the girls are met with the cruel reality of their situation: This is no rich family; they were not maids.
Instead, the girls are beaten and drugged into submission. It is common practice for the girls to be regularly injected with methamphetamine. This is done for several reasons: Firstly, to put them into a state that prevents them from fighting back; and secondly to get them addicted. The addiction ensures that if they escape, they will be forced to return to the brothel in order to get their fix.
“Girls are beaten and drugged into submission”
Once the girls’ spirits are broken, they are ready for work. They are told that they have to repay the amount that the brothel paid for them, and that once this is done they may leave. In reality, this amount is an impossible and imaginary goal. No matter the initial purchase price of the girl, the brothel owners will add costs such as food, rent and protection—costs which exceed the amount the girl brings in a day.
The price of hiring a girl varies, but the lowest price we’ve heard is 50 Indian Rupees (about $1).
The girls are not provided with condoms, making HIV and other STDs an overwhelming problem. The belief amongst some castes that virgins cure HIV only makes the problem worse.
Furthermore, because of this lack of protection, young girls often find themselves pregnant at a very young age. If the girl and the baby survives child birth, then the baby is raised in the brothel. If it is a girl, there is every chance that it will be born into a life of prostitution and forced to work as soon as she gets her period.
She will then experience the same hell her mother has.
Luckily, there are organisations making a real difference in turning this reality into bad history. Through education, law enforcement and culture changes, these people are making a dint in the $150 billion dollar trafficking industry. You can check them out here.