Johann Hari has just published a long (c.5000 words) piece on sex trafficking between Bangladesh and India. In it he speaks to a number of prostitutes, Bangladeshi children who
don’t want to be prostitutes are at risk from pimps, and an organisation dedicated to helping the children stay one step ahead of the traffickers. It really is worth reading the whole way through, but if you don’t have the time, here are a few choice extracts:
“This is the story of the twenty-first centuryâ€™s trade in slave-children. My journey into their underworld took place where its alleys and brothels are most dense â€“ Asia, where the United Nations calculates one million children are being traded every day. It took me to places I did not think existed, today, now. To a dungeon in the lawless Bangladeshi borderlands where children are padlocked and prison-barred in transit to Indian brothels. To an iron whore-house where grown women have spent their entire lives being raped. To a clinic that treat syphilitic eleven year-olds.”
Talking to a prostitute:
“She saw what happened to the older women there. They are forced to â€œbreedâ€. Their daughters are raised to be prostitute-slaves. After three months, two other girls imprisoned in the brothel approached her with an escape plan. They would save up the sleeping pills they were given at night â€“ to stop them sobbing and howling and putting off the â€˜clientsâ€™ â€“ and slip them into the drink of the â€˜Mashiâ€™ who was imprisoning them. Then they would run as far and as a fast as they could.”
The dangers of trying to combat the traffickers:
“The border between India and Bangladesh is a long and rippling river. As I stand there, in front of me, there is the worldâ€™s largest democratic republic. Behind me, there is a dungeon with iron bars, where Bangladeshi women are held before being sold to India. All the people here refer to it as â€œthe traffickerâ€™s placeâ€; it is not disguised.
As they gather around in their quiet, muddy village, the locals â€“ a hardened band of farmers â€“ explain that there is low-level warfare going on out here. Over sweet tea on his veranda, with a crowd watching on, their local elected representative Adul Khaleqâ€“ a rugged man in his fifties â€“ says he is paying bitterly for taking on the traffickers.
â€œMy brother, Abdu Saleq, was our elected council member here until three years ago,â€ he explains. His career ended abruptly when he caught red-handed a trafficker who was trying to take a 25 year old woman over to India: â€œHe thought it was his duty to stop them. He thought selling women was wrong.â€ The freed woman called her father, who came tearfully to collect her.
Two nights later, the traffickers turned up at Abduâ€™s house. They dragged him from his bed by his hair, took him out into the street, and hacked his body to pieces with an axe as he howled. â€œThe traffickers told his wife they would kill us too,â€ Adul says. But the villagers refused to be cowed. They set up a Neighbourhood Watch scheme, to track the traffickers: â€œWe work as a watchdog at night. Who is trafficking? How many girls are being taken? As soon as something is spotted, we are alerted.â€
But the story does not end with this black-and-white morality tale: it gets grey. Adul says they cannot go to the police, because they are thoroughly bribed and bought off by the traffickers and simply let them go. Instead, they have to â€œbeat the traffickers mercilessly.â€ And as a result, the police have framed them, they say â€“ on murder charges. Adul is awaiting trial for a murder in Khulna everybody in the town claims he could not have committed, because they all saw him that day in the village.”
With street children in Dhaka:
“But there is an ever greater fear: the traffickers. The only moment when Mohammed betrays emotion is when he remembers a little girl called Muni, who was his friend. One day in June last year, when she was nine-and-a-half, an old man approached and told her she could have a brilliant job if she came with him. She refused, remembering the rumours that spread among the children about what really happened if you went with these men. He snatched her anyway. The other kids tried to tell the police, but they were just chased away.
Her body was found, raped and strangled, three days later. Mohammed is convinced it was because she refused to be fooled by the traffickersâ€™ tales, and refused to just be taken to a brothel: she fought back. â€œYes, we are very frightened of the traffickers,â€ Mohammed says, yawning. He has to sleep: he needs to get up in four hours, to start collecting waste-paper. One of this little gang of urban Mowglis is supposed to stay awake, to keep watch â€“ â€œbut itâ€™s difficult,â€ he says. I ask him what he would like to own when heâ€™s older, thinking I will get a childâ€™s reverie about having a big house and a car. â€œOwn?â€ he says. â€œIâ€™d like to own my mother.â€ And with that, he grins and closes his eyes.”
An organisation (which receives money from Comic Relief) trying to save the children:
“Ishtiaque Ahmed is an intellectual who â€“ in long, statistic-packed monologues â€“ tells me how he created Aparajeyo (Undefeated). It is one of the most compelling anti-trafficking forces in Bangladesh. They run schools on the streets and shelters for the abused children, and they pay for an army of kids who have been rescued from prostitution to fan out across the city teaching other kids about how to thwart the traffickers. They are the William Wilberforces of our time, ending slavery one child at a time.
|Post to del.icio.us|
Filed in: Bangladesh,Current affairs,India