Ok, so maybe not your daughter, but what about a niece or a neighbor?
You are a woman, and your parents were desperately poor—unable to provide for you and your five siblings on pennies a day in your remote village. They need you to contribute to family income so at 13 years old, you followed a neighbor’s promise for work in the big city. You cannot read nor can you write and when you arrive in the city, a woman meets you and takes you to your accommodation. She locks you in a room, and you are sold to the highest bidder. You spend the next ten years servicing an average of 20 men a night. You lost your freedom, your childhood, and your future… Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.
The valley must look a lot like the red light district in Mumbai. Hot, dirty, dark, disease-infested. Animal feces mixed with mud, sinister looking pimps—men and women—lurk in the shade of the tattered awnings of shops and brothels. All eyes on me; too observed to really be able to observe. The buildings are 2-3 stories tall. Shutters open from the second floor of the brothels and silently announce the contents of the cages therein—minor girls trapped inside; the most valuable possession of the brothel keepers.
I met six HIV+ women at a rehabilitation home outside of Mumbai. Each woman told a story of pain and abuse. One was trafficked at 14 by her uncle into a brothel in Mumbai. She was rescued, but not before she was infected with AIDS. The woman who sat next to her was raped by a family member and she gave birth to a still-born child--she was beaten until she almost died and then became infected. A woman across the room lost her husband to AIDS and then her 1 ½ year old. A year or so later, her second and now only child died too. She is alone and infected, but not yet dead.
None of these women chose to become commercial sex workers. Many were forced, sold or tricked into the trade. They were trafficked. But human trafficking isn’t just about sex.
Human trafficking is the process by which a person—child, woman, or man—is forced or coerced into servitude. In addition to forced prostitution or sexual exploitation, human trafficking victims may include child soldiers recruited into the armed forces in Africa, young boys abducted to be camel jockeys in the Middle East, and adults and children forced into bonded or exploited labor across the world. Money does not have to be exchanged nor need do borders be crossed for trafficking to take place.
600,000 to 800,000 human beings are trafficked across international borders annually. Millions more are trafficked within their own countries. The International Labor Organization (ILO) reports that at least 12.3 million people work in slave-like conditions.
Worth at least $8 billion a year, human trafficking is big business. It takes different forms in different parts of the world. Powerful organized crime networks as well as individual family members profit from the sale and trafficking of human beings.
Overwhelmed by the magnitude of the issue and struggling to figure out my response, I searched the empty eyes of a woman I’ll call Tiliya as she struggled to keep them open after servicing 25 men the night before. She wearily showed me the pictures of her two children. I noticed that the inside of her left forearm revealed two dozen scars from cuts parallel to her left wrist—an 18K gold man’s watch dangled from her right wrist.
From where I sit, I would not sell another person, but I am
convicted in my previous failure to know Tiliya’s story and in my
failure to respond--to share my emotional bounty as well as my relative
financial largesse. Gary Haugen, author of Good News About Injustice,
calls for us to develop a “compassion permanence”. What would it mean
for us to know, to remember, and to act so that the daughters and sons
in vulnerable places—including the United States—would be provided for
© Heidi Metcalf, 2005.