The Condemned Girls of India

Human trafficking is considered to be the third most profitable crime, after drug trafficking and weapons trafficking.  While human trafficking is a global problem, its worst form might be witnessed in India.  It is estimated up to 18 million people in India are living in slavery. This is over a third of the total global estimate of people living in slavery, believed to be 46 million.  The majority of those 18 million Indian people who are living in slavery are believed to be women or underage girls that have been human trafficked and forced into sex work or sold off into marriage.

Human trafficking in India gets even more scary with the realization that it is the young daughters, still in their pre-teen years, of impoverished families living in rural areas that are the prime targets to get kidnapped.  Human traffickers will then force them into sex work or sell them into marriage, maybe to a random passerby on the opposite side of the country willing to pay the “asking price”, sometimes as little as 50 dollars.  Most of the pre-teen girls that get kidnapped from their rural communities across India are never get found. And often if they are found, it tends to be many years later, after they have been married off and are teen moms, and after Stockholm Syndrome has kicked in and they refuse to leave their abusers, who sometimes go on to father their children.  For those that get older and who want to leave, they are often stuck trying to repay their pimps for the money that was paid to the traffickers initially.

A better understanding of India’s human trafficking problem can be found in three documentaries—worthwhile watching to get up to speed with on the matter. These documentaries feature stories of real-life victims and their gut-wrenching tales, clearly depicting the problem and the depravities of certain elements of India’s society.

India’s Slave Brides

India’s Slave Brides documents how girls in rural parts of India are being kidnapped and sold off into marriage by their captors.  One part of this documentary covers a 16-year-old girl who was kidnapped while going to the store to buy a notebook for school. It goes over how this girl’s family was living in rural poverty and how her father had recently passed away.  The girl’s mother, Majeda, tried everything to get her daughter back. Then, a few months after the kidnapping, her daughter called to say that she was in Haryana and that she would return with her if she came to her.  When Majeda went to the local police station to file a complaint with this new information, the police officers demanded that she pay them 700 dollars.  Being a single mother to three young children and without the required funds, Majeda was helpless to do anything.  Eventually Majeda would learn that her daughter was married away, and those occasional phone calls stopped entirely.

It was the broadcasting crew who interviewed Majeda that decided to help her out by travelling with her to Haryana, hopefully to help her reunite with her daughter.  When they found the home where her daughter lived, the daughter, now a mother herself, refused to go back home, and was angry that her mom involved the police.  Her now-husband told the police officer that he met his would-be wife at a railway station when a man and woman who claimed to be her aunt and uncle asked him if he wanted to marry her.  The husband said his wife seemed disturbed, so he said yes to help her out.  The daughter later explained that this couple lied to her about being related to her. They had told her that they could help her with her tuition, but when she went with them, she realized that it was all a lie.  The husband denied buying his wife, but he later told other police officers that he paid the “aunt and uncle” around 40 dollars for their expenses.

Another family featured in the documentary had their daughter kidnapped when she was 13 years old, over 6 years prior to the filming of the documentary, and that family never heard back from their daughter.  They believed their daughter’s human traffickers lived in their midst because, prior to the kidnapping certain people were loitering around their home, and after the kidnapping they came to the family and threatened the family to stop blaming them, well before the family even went to the police.  This family spent 2,000 dollars searching the whole of Assam, trying to find their daughter, with no success.  They now believe that she is far away in Haryana or Rajasthan.

Children for Sale: The Fight Against Child Trafficking in India

Children for Sale: The Fight Against Child Trafficking in India documents how innovative human traffickers are getting to obtain underage children by posing as “labor agents” and offering impoverished families the opportunities for their children to work in domestic work, factory work, or even outside of India, but the traffickers actually sell these children to brothels in major areas like Calcutta, Bangalore, Mumbai, and New Delhi.

This documentary features a former human trafficker who bought and sold children for profit. He talks about how he became a designated human trafficker for his rural community, claiming he was in debt and went to the Delhi which is where he was offered a job to supply girls.  His commission was less than 5 dollars per girl, in contrast a buffalo could cost 350 dollars.  Eventually the former human trafficker said that he was feeling sick from the hard questions he was being asked and he stated that he was poor back then and realizes how wrong it was now.

One of the girls that was interviewed did her interview in a silhouette because she was too ashamed of what had happened to her: she was promised a waitressing job in Singapore before being locked in a shipping container and being forced to provide sex work to migrant workers.  The girl says how the human traffickers told her she could earn her freedom by servicing 240 clients with sex services and that they would kill her if she tried to run away, but she eventually managed to escape after servicing half the clients her traffickers had wanted.

Caged Until ‘Broken’: Life for Mumbai’s Prostitutes

Caged Until ‘Broken’: Life for Mumbai’s Prostitutes documents the story of a human trafficking survivor named Goody, a 26-year-old woman who grew up in extreme rural poverty and who had a desperate desire for a better life.  Goody had no intention or desire to work in the sex trade, but she was lured to a big city with a promise of a maid job that paid 5 dollars per week.  At the age of 11, Goody had asked her neighbor for help to find a job since they had mentioned how their daughter went to work in Mumbai, but labor agents would take Goody to Kamithapura, informing her that her job would not be that of a maid but that of a sex worker.  The 11-year-old Goody refused and demanded to be put back on the train, but instead was savagely beaten and left with a  woman who held her hands while the woman’s daughter held her legs, allowing a customer to sexually abuse her.  The attack left Goody in the hospital for 3 months.

After recovering from the attack, Goody still rebelled, but this resulted in her getting caged for multiple months, and she described the goal of the caging as being meant to break her will and make her do as she was told.  The “cages” were not actually cages in the traditional sense, but they were boxed crates that were 1 meter high and would be padlocked shut.  In addition to daily stick beatings, the brothel owner told Goody that she would not get fed if she refused to work, that she might be sold someplace worse, or even killed. She eventually relented.

After a few years, Goody managed to escape and get to a police station to file a police complaint, but that landed her in jail for 3 months before the brothel owner told her that they paid 600 dollars in bail money to free her, and it took Goody three years to pay that money back.  Worst of all, there is a cutscene in this documentary where a police officer can be seen taking bribe money from a pimp standing in front of another brothel in the red-light district. It is explained how police officers will fight for the chance to work in the red-light district so that they can make extra cash by taking bribes.

Perhaps the ending of this documentary might be one of the saddest of them all, when the journalist asks Goody what her hope is for the future, Goody responds  “I have a lot of dreams, but they will never happen,” she says with a surrendering laugh, “I want to be at home, with my family.  I can’t go because I’ve got such a big loan on my head.  When I have paid it, I will go home.  I hope.” With the journalist final remarks on the conditions of despair being, “It’s a brutal industry that takes young girls and then enslaves them.  A vicious self-perpetuating cycle that offers no way out.”

A cold world.  A cruel world.

In 2016, the Indian government was in process of drafting the country’s first-ever anti-trafficking laws, but little seems to have changed since then, at least for the kidnapping of underage girls who were living in extreme rural poverty.  This problem seems to be more of a cultural and social norms issue and how much of their society views girls as being undesirable.  In addition to inadequate protections for children, India’s institution of policing is extremely inconsistent across the country, and it is not uncommon to have completely inadequate police services in rural areas or for some of them to be rife with corruption and in bed with local crime groups.

Despite that there are statistics related to the kidnapping and human trafficking of children across India, they need to be taken with a grain of salt seeing just how common it was for police to turn away families who could not meet their payment demands to search for their children. Not unless they arrived with international broadcasting teams.  The unfortunate reality in all of this is that the condemned girls of India, all of whom seem to come from underprivileged backgrounds, seem to be condemned to serve as soulless bodies that exist for the pleasure of others, unless the Indian government decides to take greater steps.  India’s great potential does not afford it any excuses as to why some people feel comfortable enough to kidnap children and then traffic those same children into sex work, openly and for the whole world to see.

%d bloggers like this: