By Megan Elder
What are you doing right now? You might be sitting on a bus, or eating lunch, or at school. You are probably surrounded by friends, teachers and your possessions. Imagine for a minute a dark, dirty, cramped room with an equally dirty mattress sitting in a corner. Imagine being taken from your family by someone you trust, with the promise of a better life. Imagine being drugged, beaten and raped. Imagine having abortions performed by an unlicensed doctor. Imagine getting AIDs. Then imagine all this happening at age 10.
Child prostitution isn’t a myth. It isn’t a profession. It can be a death sentence. As spoken by Sita, a 15 year old girl sold into prostitution in Mumbai, “I would not wish that life on an enemy. It was pure hell.” And it isn’t just happening in faraway developing countries The UK, America and Russia are all thriving child prostitution destinations. Yes, destinations. As in, wealthy men from other countries, even from New Zealand, are not just travelling to Mumbai or Bangkok to find child prostitutes; they are going to Birmingham and Moscow. This is a HUGE problem on a global scale. In fact it is such a huge problem, involving so many people, that it is really hard to imagine how this affects the individuals.
Carol* from Zimbabwe.
Carol was orphaned and living with her grandparents, with her brothers and sisters. One day, when she was 16 years old she was on her way to school and was approached by two men who offered her a job. Carol was tempted by opportunity to help out her grandparents and support her siblings, so she accepted the offer. Carol left with the men and they took her to a place where they raped her, then she was drugged and placed in a coffin and crossed the Zimbabwean border. When she arrived in South Africa she was taken to a brothel and forced into prostitution. She was not allowed to go anywhere, she was threatened and abused, and was under constant lock and key. After a few months she was taken to Mozambique where the abuse continued. Here Carol contracted HIV.
Source| Oasis Zimbabwe (*not her real name)
Surrounded by all this abuse, disease, poverty, and even death, how do these young slaves cope? Fact is, sometimes they don’t. But many have spirit and faith, which keeps them alive. They know that one day they’ll escape from their captivity. Some girls with these unbreakable spirits arrive at the brothels and refuse to have sex with the clients. But the brothel owners use many techniques to break the girls’ spirits. Lighted cigarettes are pushed into their skin, they are beaten with wooden sticks, metal rods, branded, and they are threatened with death or being buried alive. You might ask, with these terrible conditions, why don’t they try to get away? Some do, like Jyoti, an Indian girl taken at age 7 and rescued age 16. But it’s incredibly difficult to run from the only life you’ve known since you were 7. Especially if you are in bad health and have no education, no family and no other job prospects.
However, there is hope. Organisations such as the Youth Partnership Project, ECPAT International and Stop the Traffik and inter-governmental agencies such as UNICEF are all dedicated to fighting child exploitation. Each play a part in trying to stop child trafficking, prostitution and slavery. From lobbying governments to strengthen the laws which protect children, to providing support to survivors of the sex industry, they are working with the children, for the children. And they’re making a difference.
Sokha* from Cambodia
Poipet in Cambodia is known as the ‘Wild West’ of South East Asia because of its roaring sex trade and gambling scene. People go there to buy or kidnap children and girls as young as five are trafficked from Cambodia over the border into Thailand. Sokha’s mother was ill with a liver complaint and the family needed money to pay for drugs to treat her and to buy land to build a home. Sokha and her friend Makara (who were 14 and 15) were sold to a trafficker who promised good jobs for them in Thailand. But reality turned out to be very different. Sokha explains how there were no ‘good’ jobs and she and Makara were used as slaves. They were given jobs selling fruit, but with their bosses taking most of the money for themselves, they were not able to survive or send any money home. Soon their bosses forced them into sleeping with men to pay their way.
The families contacted a group, Cambodian Hope Organisation (CHO), who rescues girls from prostitution. They gave them photos of the girls which were sent to Thailand. They were found and rescued and brought back to their families, where CHO then offered them counseling, support and training in sewing.
When asked what they hope for in the future, Sokha says she hopes to set up her own sewing business and employ and help girls in her situation. ‘We were scared all the time in Thailand,’ she says. ‘Now I’m happy, getting support, living with my family and free to work when I want.’