Photos and text ©Hazel Thompson/eyevine/ZUMA Press
Each year, literally thousands of girls are sold into prostitution in India. While no formal statistics exist, it is believed that two million women and children work in India's brothels. Approximately 25,000 children, between five and 15 years of age, live and work in Bombay alone. The estimated number of children involved in prostitution is increasing by 10 percent each year. About 15 percent of prostitutes in Bombay, Delhi, Madras, Calcutta, Hyderabad and Bangalore are children. Nearly 50 percent of prostitutes were minors when they entered the trade.
Some girls are kidnapped, and some are trafficked or enticed from their villages with offers of employment, while others are born into the trade. After they are sold to the brothel, the girls are held captive for two to three years before they are allowed out on their own. The girls are beaten, gang raped and routinely abused. In Bombay, the girls charge between £1 and £5 (US $2 to $9) for sex. Customers pay the brothel and the money goes to pay off the girl's debt (the price she was bought for). This system of debt bondage keeps the girls in perpetual slavery.
Back in 1996, a man called Rev. Devaraj recognized the plight of children living in Bombay's red-light district. Rev. Devaraj worked with U.K.-based charity Jubilee Action to launch the initiative to rescue children in danger from Bombay's sex trade.
Asha, aged 14 years, was the first girl to be delivered out of a guaranteed lifetime of prostitution. Her mother was a prostitute on 14th Lane, deep in the heart of Bombay's notorious red-light district, an area called Kamatipura. When her mother died of AIDS, Asha was abandoned to care for herself and her younger brother and sister. They lived outside on the streets of Kamatipura, surviving on the leftovers handed down from friendly prostitutes and scrounged scraps from rubbish dumps. Her only option was to follow her mother into the sex trade when her estranged father bargained with
brothelers to sell her for £600 (US $1,075). Asha was rescued just in time.
She started a new life away from the dangers of the red-light district. Brought up in Jubilee Action's home, she was able to complete her education and look forward to a future filled with options.
Six years later, at the age of 21, this child of a prostitute was living free. Celebrating her marriage, she went from rags to riches and from tragedy to hope. Like famous heroines of stage and film, her life is a true fairy tale. Asha now lives in Bombay and is a vibrant and confident young woman who works with Jubilee helping others escape from similar plight she once faced. Asha's the first girl to be rescued and the first to be married. Her life illustrates the triumph of faith and hope over despair. She proved that dreams really can come true.
Back in 2002, Jubilee Action provided a permanent home for 72 children, aged 18 months to 19 years, all of whom had been rescued from the same area where Asha lived. The majority of girls are orphaned or abandoned children of prostitutes: Some have been sold into the sex trade, others were tricked or kidnapped. Every girl in the red-light district is guaranteed to drift into a life of sexual slavery. In the Jubilee homes, the girls have a bright future; despite having received little education on the streets, the girls are integrated into the local school system. The homes provide
a safe and loving environment where all their physical, emotional and spiritual needs are met.
Jubilee Action continues to actively rescue children from the red-light area. In 2001, a night shelter opened in the midst of Bombay's sex industry. It provides a safe haven at night for the children of prostitutes. The children receive an evening meal, breakfast, Christian counseling and encouragement to attend school. The shelter has increased Jubilee's influence in the area. It enables the team to
keep a watchful eye on the children as they grow and will help prevent them from entering the sex business. It has become a channel to deliver children permanently out of Kamatipura into the Jubilee homes, into a future with hope and changed destiny.
Rev. Devaraj estimates that, on 14th Lane alone, 300 children remain at risk. That is one street of many in the red-light area. Each day children are made orphans by the scourge of AIDS. The danger increases daily for the young girls who are still trapped.
NOTES TO THE EDITOR:
* This project was started in 1996 by British based charity 'Jubilee Action'.
* In 2002, 72 children aged between 1 1/2 - 19 years old had been rescued.
* The children live in three homes outside Bombay. Two of these homes are sponsored by Billy Connelly's Tickety Boo Tea. It costs approximately £25,000 (US $44, 795) a year to run each home per year. The charity is constantly looking for funds to cover the running costs of the project and desperately want to extend the work, so more children can be rescued and given a permanent home.
* In 2001 a night shelter was set up in the centre of Bombay's red light district, which currently looks after 44 children: thirty-three girls aged between 4- 16 and eleven boys aged between 4 - 14.