India, a country large and diverse, is home to about 1.3 billion people. Its diversity is what draws people from all around the world to experience India’s incredible tastes, colors, and sights. At the same time, evil lurks in the dark corners of India’s most populous cities.
Over 18 million people live in modern slavery in India. Many people are aware of the issue of sex trafficking in India, and organizations like India Partners work to bring safety, rescue, and care to those trapped in the red-light districts.
While rescue and rehabilitation are key in the fight against human trafficking, prevention is crucial as well. Increased law enforcement and informational posters in high-risk areas do little to prevent trafficking. This is because the root cause of a lot of modern slavery is extreme poverty.
Modern slavery often looks like this:
Fifteen-year-old Laxmi and her family struggle every day for basic needs. Her father works in the fields all day, and she left school after 8th grade to help her mother collect water for the family. This takes all day, so paid employment is not an option for either of them.
Laxmi’s mother heard about a girl from another village who went to Mumbai to work as a maid so she could send money home to support the family. Laxmi and her mother decide to reach out to the recruiter so she could work in the big city too.
If Laxmi stays in the village, she will marry an older man and have children in the next couple of years, only continuing the cycle of poverty. Laxmi’s mother is a bit nervous about the big city opportunity, but she thinks it’s Laxmi’s only chance for a better life. Laxmi can also help support the family with her new job.
In Mumbai, Laxmi moves into a house with five other girls. She’s taken to her new employer’s house right down the block. Strange men stare at Laxmi as she walks into the home she thinks she’s going to clean.
Laxmi’s employer harshly tells Laxmi that she’s not going to clean. Instead, she’s going to have to have please the men. She resists at first, but after being beaten and drugged, her desire to live overcomes her moral tendencies. Laxmi is trapped in sexual slavery. Every day she is raped countless times by men who come from all over. Laxmi has no means to return home, and if her family saw her now they would probably kill her for being dishonorable – she has no options.
Laxmi writes positive letters to her family in the village because she doesn’t want them to worry. She is forced to spend most of her money on hair and makeup products to look good for her customers and can only send small amounts home to her family.
Years pass and Laxmi has a daughter, Devi. Devi faces danger every day in the red-light district. She and her mother are abused by customers and their landlord. Devi feels helpless – she knows that her mother is a sex worker. Laxmi prays that Devi can have a different future.
Sadly, this scenario is not uncommon, nor is it limited to sexual slavery. Modern slavery takes many forms, such as bonded labor where men, women, and children are trapped by a debt they can never pay off forcing them to work grueling hours in abhorrent conditions.
Prevention of human trafficking begins with alleviating poverty through empowerment. For example, access to clean water empowers families like Laxmi’s because it allows more time for people to work instead of spending half the day collecting water. More work equals better education. Better education provides job skills that lead to the end of the cycle of poverty.
The fight against slavery is nothing new and it’s far from over. Now, more than ever, it’s in our hands to show up for people like Laxmi and Devi. We have to challenge ourselves to be a voice for someone without one to prevent these scenarios from repeating. When people aren’t struggling every day for their basic needs, there is room to thrive.
Consider contributing to an organization like India Partners, who work with indigenous, grassroots organizations in India to empower families in rural areas with their basic needs. They also work to rescue kids like Devi, who are trapped in the red-light district, so that they may have a better future.
We can’t turn a blind eye to the injustices being committed. Educate yourself about what is happening, and take action for those suffering. As Nobel Winner Kailash Satyarthi said, “If not now, then when? If not you, then who? If we are able to answer these fundamental questions, then perhaps we can wipe away the blot of human slavery.”
Susie George grew up in frigid Buffalo, New York, and eventually made her way west to green Eugene, Oregon. Her passion for human rights, environmental justice, and women’s issues led her to her current position as Social Media Coordinator at India Partners. Susie started out as a volunteer and transitioned into this position in which she communicates India Partners’ mission to their supporters and followers.
Susie lives with her two best friends and their bunny, Biggie. She loves laughing, being in nature, playing the violin and drums, and is an aspiring homesteader.