Statistics about trafficking alert us to a massive global problem. The huge numbers confirm the claim that trafficking for sex, domestic labour or factory work is the second biggest illegal money earner in the world – only the drugs trade is bigger.
Around 28 million people are victims of trafficking (that’s the population of Australia, Singapore and New Zealand combined). Trafficking affects men and women, boys and girls, but 80% of people trafficked are women and girls.
Around 1,100 children, most of them poor and vulnerable, are taken every day.
All this registers in one part of my brain – the left side where logic rules.
But the appalling pain of trafficking victims only comes to full light for me when I hear stories like the ones Aashima Samuel told me two weeks ago. Aashima is a lawyer based in New Delhi and she heads up the anti-trafficking work of the Evangelical Fellowship of India. With a team of trained volunteers, she is on the ground dealing with the consequences of this evil trade.
Her stories are starkly vivid.
A pastor in a town in Gumla in Jharkhand saw a small girl, tied by the wrists, maybe only 7 or 8, being dragged by a man along the street. The pastor stopped the man to ask what was happening. The man openly admitted that he had bought the girl and was taking her to the temple to sacrifice her to the goddess so that his family would be prosperous.
How can ‘human sacrifice’ of a little girl still exist in 2015?
When the pastor protested, the man got angry. But the pastor did not stop there. He told a lawyer and together they were able to rescue the girl, called Punam.
Parents sometimes sell their children because they are desperately poor and they believe the trafficker’s promise that the child is going to a good job. Aashima told me about Salomy, who was 12 when she was sold to a pimp by her parents last year for just Rs 100. That is US$2.
How can a young girl, or any human life, be sold for such a tiny amount?
The pimp took Salomy and handed her over to other agents who took her to Delhi where she was used in child labour and sexually abused. She was also tortured physically and mentally.
A pastor in her village in Jharkhand state (NE India), who has done training on the prevention of human trafficking, realised that the girl was gone and went to the police.
The police interrogated villagers and the parents and identified the traffickers. The local pimps were given three days to produce the girl and amzingly, she was returned. Salomy was in terrible shape – scared, confused, and broken.
Pastor Jose took her to a church hostel and literacy centre, and got her admitted into school.
Where are Punam and Salomy now? Punam was rescued nearly three years ago. She is now 11 and lives in a home for rescued girls. She is attending school and has become a Christian. Aashima is proud of her confidence and progress.
Salomy is also in a home run by Christians for rescued children. Aashima admits, “She is still extremely afraid and suspicious of every one. She will take time to heal. But she is school, in class 6.”
The work being done to save girls and prevent more children from the same fate may seem pitifully small set against the statistics I quoted earlier but any action is better than no action.
The Arise and Restore project of churches in India works in four of the poorest Indian states, sensitising families and church leaders on human trafficking, talking about their rights, showing how to handle trafficking situations and building local teams of child advocates. The program is about addressing economic and spiritual injustice. They work with police, lawyers and other NGOs to magnify their impact.
I met Aashima in the quiet of a retreat centre outside Toronto, where the horror of her stories seemed alien. Sprinkler systems maintained lush green lawns and security gates spoke of protected affluence. Canadians are wonderfully friendly with a British-influenced civility. But local anti-trafficking groups told me about what’s happening even there. Aashima’s work somehow fits with our assumptions of what trafficking looks like, but in nations like Canada, poor and vulnerable young people (in foster care, those from the poorest families, minority groups) are in danger of being trafficked within the country.
The average age for girls entering prostitution is 13.5. In Canada! Groups working to stop trafficking have targetted the users rather than the supply. They figure that if it’s the men who buy sex who are prosecuted, they will see the same turnaround in demand for prostitution that occurred in Sweden (read Chapter 2 of Half the Sky).
These stories of women fighting for justice give me heart and hope. They show women and men in communities refusing to give in to evil, defending victims of abuse. Aashima’s name means ‘protector, defender.’ How apt for a woman who is training a small army of pastors, students and parents who know that children are worth much more than Rs100.
- You can deepen your Christian perspective on traficking and poverty by reading respected UK writer Elaine Storkey, at www.elainestorkey.com
- Aashima has asked us to pray for Salomy. We cannot neglect to pray for all the children and young people who have been rescued and have begun the journey to healing. Pray also for Aashima and her team.
- There are many groups tackling human trafficking. Check out A21, Stop the Traffik and IJM.
- Find out more about global/local Christian action on trafficking here