Slavery in today's world...
Pari* was living in a refugee camp near the border between India and Bangladesh as a young girl. At 13 she was invited by a friend to come with him to Kolkata (the closest, populous city) for the day. Pari agreed thinking she would be gone for the day and back to see her family again by dusk. Arriving in Kolkata, she quickly realized that something was terribly wrong. Her “friend” was not a friend at all. He was a trafficker looking to make a profit. He immediately sold Pari to a brothel where she was locked into a room afraid, confused, and alone. At 13 wondering if she would ever see her family again… At 13 she was “broken in” to start the vicious cycle of injustice…
Pari had been trafficked into a brothel in the largest red light district in India, Sonagachi. Her innocence stolen and freedom vanished. As a young girl she was sold as a piece of property to be used and abused by strangers. Her body was no longer her own.
Relocated to a foreign city far from her home and unable to read or write…Pari felt trapped. “I was surviving. I didn’t know night from day. I assumed my parents thought I was dead. I drank and drank. Every girl has a lot of [this] sadness.”
In the red light district of Sonagachi, there are estimated 10,000 sex workers. The average age of a sex worker in India is between 10- 17 years old. Think about it: 10,000 women and girls facing violent, sexual abuse on a daily basis. A Freedom Business owner in India explained, “100% of the women I have talked to do not want to be in the [sex] trade and over 90% did not make the choice to enter the trade.” Poverty and desperation to feed one’s family are often cited as the two main reasons a women would enter the trade “willingly.”
The women are afraid to run away because the brothel owners threaten to kidnap their sisters or daughters who will then endure the same torture if they try to escape. Girls trafficked from Bangladesh or Nepal are told they will be thrown in jail for entering the country illegally if found trying to return home. Lies, abuse, and threats of violence or imprisonment keep the women not only physically enslaved, but psychologically enslaved as well.
Unfortunately, Pari’s story is not an isolated event. There are approximately 2 million children trapped in commercial sexual exploitation around the world. Tricked by a “boyfriend” who promises love and marriage. Kidnapped and sold by family or strangers. Recruited for a job that doesn’t exist. The initial stages of trafficking might be different for each girl, but each story weaves elements of abuse, exploitation, and a loss of freedom.
Thankfully today Pari’s story is a story of freedom and on-going restoration. She is now working for a Freedom Business in India as a recruiter for the social enterprise empowering other women to experience the freedom she has found. She also travels to women at risk in the villages warning them about the lies and deceptive practices used by traffickers.
Pari’s story (and the thousands of other stories yet to be told) is the reason why the Shop for Freedom exists. Freedom businesses allow women to earn with dignity and provide sustainable income for their families. Traffickers prey on the vulnerable. Employment equals empowerment for the women and their communities as well. We can make a difference in the fight against human trafficking and sexual exploitation. Please join us on this journey to fight against trafficking one purchase at a time.
*Name changed to protect her identity