As you walk through communities in Thailand and India where the sex industry is prevalent, you see young girls — some not even teenagers yet — standing on the street corners or near bars. This should not be the case.
Children should not be for sale.
But when their culture tells them this is normal, that it’s their duty, they feel they have no other choice.
The phrase “human trafficking” often brings to mind girls locked in a shady hotel room or being transported in a dark, dingy tractor-trailer. But many of those working in the booming global sex industry are trapped in an invisible cage — a life devoid of choice.
Girls in Thailand and parts of India are often taught it will be their responsibility to financially provide for their families. For those who can’t afford schooling, that often means a life in the sex industry. Instead of a pimp or madam holding them captive, it’s their own guilt and sense of obligation that forces them to sell their bodies every night.
But boys can be victims of the sex industry, too. If a boy’s mother is a sex worker, she often has to bring clients to her one-room home. Having strangers in the house puts him in danger of being exploited. Plus, he will slowly come to believe the sex industry is normal, making it more likely that he will become an abuser himself someday.
For most of us, hearing about modern-day slavery elicits a sense of powerlessness and despair. At times, the problem can seem so big — millions of women and children trapped in an endless cycle of exploitation — that we may believe it unsolvable.
I know I have felt that way … but then I think of the stories of girls like Hamsika, and I’m reminded that even in the middle of darkness, we can find hope.
As Hamsika visits the village where she grew up, all the little girls stop and watch her.
Her head is held high, and her steps are sure. She is different from the others — she has gone further in school than any girl in this impoverished village.
Hamsika, whose name we’ve changed for privacy, was once at risk of entering a life in the sex industry. Her parents are poor and thought that if their daughter became a sex worker like many of the other girls in their village, then they could finally be rich.
After all, the sex industry is “normal” among the Banchara people of India. A 500-year-old tradition known as nari matadictates that the eldest daughter of each family must sell her body from a very young age to pay for her brothers’ marriage dowries. Many other girls enter the industry, too, simply to support their extremely impoverished families.
Their cots — dragged outside their home or to the edge of the street — signal that they are essentially “open for business.”
Hamsika thought she would be just another one of these girls for sale on the side of the road.
But that’s when freedom came knocking on Hamsika’s door.
She was given the opportunity to attend a children’s homewhere she could receive an education, nutritious meals, medical care, and learn she had another choice.
Every day that Hamsika lived in the safe home was one step further away from her previous destiny.
She knew if she had entered the sex industry, it would have done irreparable damage to her physically, emotionally, and spiritually. She is so grateful that she was rescued from a life of cultural slavery.
Hamsika is now pursuing a B.S. degree in nursing. Because of her education, she’ll be guaranteed a job once she graduates. She’ll be financially able to take care of her family … with dignity.
Now when she visits the community of her childhood, people’s heads turn. But instead of the men’s attention, it’s the little girls who watch Hamsika and want to be like her. She has become a role model.
Friday, Jan. 11, is the National Human Trafficking Awareness Day. On this day, we remember that the fight against human trafficking will not be over until there isn’t a single woman or child trapped in modern-day slavery. You can join us in this fight by becoming a child sponsor. Through our child sponsorship program, you can help give another child the opportunities that Hamsika had. You can keep him or her away from the dangers of the sex industry by providing essentials like a safe place to live and learn.
And because you can write letters and send photos, you can remind your sponsored child that he or she is loved!
What better day to rescue a child from the sex industry than on National Human Trafficking Awareness Day?