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India - Sex Trade

 

When Slavery Becomes Tradition:  The Victims Behind India’s Thriving Sex Trade

“I wanted to make her look pretty. Why shouldn’t I do it?”

Neetu’s mother glances down again as she combs her daughter’s hair, her hands rhythmically moving through each delicate, silky strand.

The only sound comes from a historic thoroughfare that is only a stone’s throw away from Neetu’s door. The tracks left from tires on the road are more ancient than time. They signify a pathway paved with a centuries-old ritual that has held her low-caste community in bondage . . . as slaves to one of humanities darkest evils.

“My mother did it for my elder sister when she turned 12 years old. Now it is my turn because Neetu is the oldest among my three daughters. It is my duty to get her prepared for her new life.”

In only a few days, Neetu will be turning 12. Like other firstborn daughters from her caste have done for hundreds of years, she will follow the Nari Mata tradition by joining her mother in a life of slavery and prostitution.

“I knew what was in store for me when I was 5 years old,” Neetu said. “My mother told me and also I have seen other girls going through the same ceremony. So I have accepted this life.”

Generations of young girls, like Neetu, have suffered the same tragic fate at the hand of tradition. It’s one of the reasons why slavery continues to be the second largest and fastest growing international criminal industry in the world.

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The Origins of Nari Mata

Activist groups estimate there are anywhere from 20-30 million slaves in the world today. This includes victims of bonded labor, forced labor, and human trafficking.

The number is difficult to estimate because there are so many factors involved. Slaves are trafficked, isolated, bought and sold . . . the very nature of slavery is to be anonymous, to disappear from under the lens of scrutiny.

In communities like Neetu’s, slavery is synonymous with tradition. Dangling on the lowest rung of India’s age-old caste system, the Banchada tribal group of central India exists solely to serve the needs of the upper classes. For over 500 years, life for young girls from the Banchada has been deliberately structured to bear the weight of a family’s financial burden.

Ironically, sexual promiscuity and adultery is frowned upon in Indian society, but the employment of young girls in the prostitution industry is not. The class of girls trapped by the bonds of Nari Mata serve as a distraction for higher-class men, keeping them from damaging the reputation of any of the women from within their own class.

Essentially, these low-caste victims are viewed as a completely dispensable part of society, allowing the upper echelons to remain “pure,” at the expense of millions of defenseless victims.

This twisted exchange has become the lifeblood of a culture. Banchada men have been taught to believe that introducing their daughters into the sex trade is their inherent right as a father . . . as respected male leaders in their communities. In fact, each member of the family has a role to play in the business. For instance, it’s the job of the girls’ brothers to solicit customers for their sisters and to directly benefit from her earnings.

Since the Banchada caste position severely limits economic opportunities and denies basic human rights, customs like Nari Mata have become a completely acceptable method of survival. But the victims of the Banchada sex industry extend even beyond the implications of Nari Mata.

Children as young as one year of age are sold and trafficked in and out of the surrounding areas into Banchada villages to be groomed for forced labor or to eventually join the sex trade.

The younger the child, the easier it is to break their spirit.

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The Life of a Sex Slave

The day a Banchada daughter, like Neetu, becomes a khilwadi (slang term for prostitute) is a terrifying one. Her father will negotiate the price of her highly prized virginity to the highest bidder—usually an older, wealthier man. From that moment on, every day will be the same . . .

She will be forced to entertain dozens of customers throughout the day and night.

She will be malnourished, sleep deprived, and exposed to sexually transmitted diseases innumerable times.

She will have a 50 percent chance of contracting HIV/AIDS in her lifetime.

She will have no say in how her earnings are spent; usually the men of the family use her customer’s tips for their own benefit while she suffers from a lack of basic necessities.

She will be isolated. She will never be allowed to marry or have an outside relationship with a man under threat of death.

She will remain uneducated. Her existence is merely utilitarian—there is no lucrative benefit for a khilwadi to go to school.

By age 35, after she is used up, burnt out, and broken from over two decades of being used by strangers, she will be forced to “retire.” She will be sick often, if not constantly, from the effects of her slavery.

Her only hope for survival rests on the trembling shoulders of her daughter . . . who is about to turn 12.

( This is part of the 7 page article written by Suzanne O’Dell @ World_help)