When we ask a child, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” he or she may say “teacher, doctor, engineer, pilot, or police officer,” – but never “prostitute!” Yet there are more than 3 million people working in India’s sex industry and more than a million of them are children. For these children and the women who were once children, there was no choice – they never dreamed of entering a life of abuse where they are required to have sex with ten or more men each day just to survive. Vulnerable and desperate, trafficking victims are forced, tricked, coerced, and then sold to the highest bidder as a merely another commodity.
Sadly, parents are often unknowningly or deliberately involved in this crime. They are easy prey to “recruiters,” who come to their villages offering employment to their daughters – usually in domestic service. Others are tricked by false promises of marriage. Families may have ten or more children, so parents jump at the chance to send a child off to work in some far off city such as Mumbai or Delhi. The risk of “losing” one child is worth taking if it enables the family to better survive. Traffickers offer a small sum of money as an “advance,” promising she will send part of her salary home each month to help the family. A contact number is provided, but of course, the number is fake, and they never hear from their child again.
Some parents are grieved or angry at the loss of their child and the girl may be blamed for abandoning her family (“We have a “bad” daughter; she never calls us.”). If, somehow, she escapes or is rescued and returned to her family, there is so much shame involved she will often be hidden away until she can be married off to anyone who will have her as “damaged goods.” Rescued girls often lie about where they are from or say they can’t remember because they don’t want to go back to their family or village.
Poverty is not the only reason young girls in India are trafficked. Lack of opportunity due to gender inequality and traditional cultural practices are also factors. An ancient Sanskrit blessing offered to Hindu women upon marriage, underscoring preference for male children, says, “May you be the mother of a hundred sons.” This preference leads to horrible consequences for girls. They earn less money than men for the same work, and steep dowry payments are required by the groom’s family to arrange a “suitable” marriage. Unbelievably, sex selective abortion, infanticide, and trafficking of girls are seen by some as “solutions” to the problem of how large families should cope with the prospect of having too many girls.