By Julia Randall
Along a stretch of a major highway that travels through a rural area in India, families struggling to survive set up make-shift roadside brothels to for the sale of sex. A truck driver delivering goods to other parts of the country will stop to select a girl as young as 11 and disappear with her into a small shack before quickly returning to the road. When they are a little older, these girls will be sent to a bigger city to be sold to a larger brothel. This is deemed necessary and acceptable in a region where the burden of providing for parents and siblings falls on young girls.
However, freedom—and the cultural change that enables it—is coming to this part of India gripped by poverty and inequality. This was illustrated by a raid that local police conducted recently in which they arrested a trafficker and rescued six girls, including 12-year-old Tia* and 16-year-old Anna*. In demonstrating that trafficking is illegal, officials signal opposition and make it a much riskier endeavor, causing people to re-evaluate the cultural beliefs that encourage it.
The impact of the raid ripples far beyond the number of rescues in an area where the trafficking of minors can be common and cultural norms assign value to individuals based on gender, class and economic status. It heralds a change in the attitudes of locals who participate in an illegal practice in an attempt to survive the circumstances of poverty.
Members of The Exodus Road’s BRAVO team travelled 28 hours each way to reach this location in order to collect the intelligence and evidence that assisted police. The length of the trip and effort involved reflects the commitment of those working in India to bring freedom to the area. Their work is altering long-held beliefs as legal consequences force people to re-think cultural norms.
“(Residents) didn’t know it was wrong to do this and now they are understanding,” said The Exodus Road Country Director Sudir*.
The fight for freedom of the those trapped in trafficking is complex and multi-faceted. This case demonstrates the importance of combatting slavery by partnering with local government and law enforcement to increase awareness, along with the crucial need to establish a consistent presence in areas where trafficking is an everyday and often accepted practice. It is essential to work with local individuals and organizations as they honor us with the privilege of assisting in their efforts.
Social justice can only occur where equal rights exist. It is our aim at The Exodus Road to partner in support with Indian officials with the hope that, one by one, girls like Tia and Anna can be set free from slavery.
A special thanks to Messenger International for funding this successful mission.
*Names have been changed for security purposes