Updated: May 27
On February 3rd, Freedom Firm rescued 3 victims from a brothel in Pune; two of the victims were minors. Swati was the youngest, only 14 years old, and had been trafficked from Bangladesh. Catherine Raja, National Director, met with Swati shortly after she was rescued. Catherine shares what she learned:
When I met Swati at the shelter home later in February, she shared her story. Her mother abandoned her when she was young and her father remarried. Swati's closest relationship was with her cousin. This cousin was a victim of child marriage and a single mother. She left Bangladesh and travelled to India in pursuit of a better life for her child.
Through relatives, Swati learned her cousin got a job from a woman named Shanti. Shanti told Swati that she would find her a good job in India as well, all she had to do was pay her 30,000 Rupees. More concerned with his new marriage, Swati’s father was happy to send her away to India. He willingly gave her the money and said he did not want to see her again. A few days after handing the money to Shanti’s father, 14-year-old Swati made the long journey to India with Shanti’s father. As soon as she reached India she was forced to attend to customers and make them happy. Prostitution was her only prospect in India. Swati shared that with nothing for her to turn to or go back to in Bangladesh, she did not fight it.
In time, Swati came to love Shanti. She genuinely believed that Shanti was being kind to her by giving her only a few customers every day and allowing only her to sleep in her room. My heart broke into a million pieces as I watched this innocent 14-year old’s face go through a myriad of emotions as my colleagues gently unpacked the truth about Shanti’s true motives towards her and the other young girls Shanti had forced into prostitution.
There was sadness, anger, and eventually, hope. My heart soared with joy as Swati agreed to testify against Shanti and see her punished. The months of sexual exploitation did not kill her spirit. She dreams of marrying a man and never returning to Bangladesh. She even asked if one of us would adopt her so she would have a family in India.
"Ora na azu nwa; it takes a village to raise a child." – an Igbo proverb
Like Swati, many little girls from various parts of India have not been raised by their parents. Their villages, communities and societies also failed to step in to bridge the gap. They have been left defenseless, voiceless thus consenting to be in prostitution. They believe that it is right, or that there was no choice, or that they are to be blamed for their plight.
Now, more than ever, I am convinced that villages, communities and relatives together can make this world safe for little girls like Swati. We all have a responsibility to protect and encourage young women to dream big.