Mala* was 16 years old when IJM first met her. She had been trapped in one of Kolkata’s infamous red-light districts for nearly a year, after being tricked by the promise of a job with a tailor.
“There are only two ways to get out of this brothel,” Mala told IJM: “You either get sold to another brothel, or you die.”
Sadly, Mala’s story is one IJM hear too often. People from all over the world are promised jobs, or given loans, to help support their struggling families and are then violently forced into a form of slavery – perhaps sexual or labour exploitation. It is estimated that there are 27 million slaves in the world today – more than at any other time in history. Traffickers often target the vulnerable and the poor as easy prey to turn into a reusable product. Unlike drug trafficking, the product of flesh can be sold repeatedly several times a day.
Mala and the other girls in the brothel were raped abused by as many as 20 men a day. The man behind this brutality was a well-connected trafficker, Bera. He was invincible; telling the girls, “I’ll never be convicted because…I’ll pay out on every level.”
All too often, the power seems to be on the side of the trafficker. This is a situation the writer of Ecclesiastes was familiar with: “I saw the tears of the oppressed – and they have no comforter; power was on the side of their oppressors.” (Ecclesiastes 4:1)
So, what is the solution? IJM seeks to change the balance of power, by ensuring perpetrators are held accountable for their abuse in their local justice systems. Accountability changes the fear equation: When would-be perpetrators are rightly afraid of the consequences of their crimes, the vulnerable do not need to fear them.
IJM’s first priority in its casework is immediate relief for the victim of the abuse being committed.
IJM Kolkata discovered Mala but, thanks to her trafficker’s connections, each rescue attempt in a 6 month timeframe was tipped off. The brothel was always empty by the time police and IJM arrived. Finally, on the seventh attempt, Mala was set free. The end of human trafficking requires persistence and determination.
Once free, IJM can focus on ensuring the victim’s perpetrator(s) is held accountable.
IJM’s lawyers were at every hearing acting on Mala’s behalf. Mala herself faced down her captor in court and testified about the awful abuse she had endured. Finally, in March 2013, over 2 years after Mala’s liberation, he was convicted and sentenced to ten years in prison.
From the time Mala was rescued, IJM aftercare staff and trusted local aftercare partners worked to ensure that she was equipped to rebuild her life and responded to the complex emotional and physical needs that are often the result of abuse. Mala’s own life has been completely transformed.
IJM seeks to prevent abuse from being committed against others at risk by strengthening the community factors and local judicial systems that will deter potential oppressors. By training police task forces and educating local lawyers and judicial systems on the plight of human trafficking the areas that are most at risk and target can protect themselves and their citizens from ever being abused in the first place.
Today,there are weeds growing over the path leading up to the roadside brothel where Mala was once trapped – the brothel is closed and the man who once reigned with impunity can terrify no more. Since Mala’s breakthrough rescue operation, police have closed several other brothels in the same area that were once notorious for selling underage girls for sex.
Human trafficking is not an issue that only happens in India or developing world countries. Human trafficking is worldwide. It is a global issue. Should our hearts not break just as much for the children being abused across oceans as much as those who are in our own towns or cities? We believe that there is hope. Transformation is happening on a Global level, for example a study done in Cebu in the Philippines showed a 79% reduction in the number of minors found in brothels over a four year period. What are you doing to join in this fight?
Click here to find out how you can get involved.
*A pseudonym has been used.
Mark Nakul Bera was convicted by a West Bengal court in the legal case: ST 1(11)/11 (arising out of Mahishadal PS Case No. 34/09 dated 24.02.09) under section 376 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 and 3/4/6/7 of the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956.