A Promise of a Better Life Lands 12-Year-Old in a Brothel

Krishnan laments the fact that there are millions of Bhavanis out there and that deceit is the name of the game in the lucrative business of child trafficking. "Most trafficking involves deception in the name of a job, marriage, domestic work or caring for children," she said.

Krishnan, 33, first got involved in saving kids by setting up a school for prostitutes' children in 1995. In her mind it was a way to keep kids from following their mother's line of work. Once she gained the mothers' trust with the school, they came forward with sordid tales of young, duped recruits and thus began Prajwala's all-out effort to protect and rehabilitate children.

She now pays prostitutes to act as informers in the red light district.

"As soon as a new child comes, we try to reach them the earliest possible, but most of the time it's too late," Krishan said.

Supply and Demand and the Middleman

Like any cash-making venture, demand drives supply.

More local and foreign customers demand and will pay top dollar for children's services. Meanwhile, on the supply side, traffickers prey on the vulnerability of poor families and societal gender discrimination. And, of course, there is the middleman.

"So much attention is placed on children, and not enough on brokers," said Chon, who believes that to solve this epidemic, there must be a crackdown on smugglers. Reduce the incentives, because unfortunately traffickers will always find poor, vulnerable communities, she said.

Prajwala, along with other grassroots organizations, continues to fight for kids' education, job training and equal rights to protect communities from traffickers and to raise overall awareness. Prajwala programs have been copied in other parts of India as the organization advocates for policy changes to protect children and to fight widespread corruption.

In Krishnan's view, India has a long way to go, but foreign tourists also need to be made aware of the rampant trafficking.

Ken Franzblau is trying to do just that. He spearheads Equality Now's campaign against sex tourism from the United States to Southeast Asia. No hard numbers exist, but he estimates that more than 100,000 men -- mostly from the United States, Europe and Japan -- go to Thailand, the Philippines and other parts of Asia with one intent in mind.

First, there's got to be a crackdown on demand created by men who are the customers, he said, describing the difficulties of prosecuting tour operators and customers who aren't on U.S. soil to get their kicks.

On the ground, enforcement also has hurdles to overcome.

Fields, from Global Fund for Children, says that in less-prosperous countries, authorities tend to turn a blind eye to making a profit, regardless of its nature.

"Pressures are different, allowances are different," he said.

Franzblau suggests having the United States apply international pressure.

"The U.S. should be more forward in getting women's rights and equality," Franzblau said. "Nobody is coming to the U.S. for sex tourism."

As for Bhavani, she's 21 years old now and working as a trained welder in a factory, despite being HIV positive.

That success story keeps Krishnan hopeful. "I look at the children, their smile sustains me," she said.

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