Never forgotten

Two children are trafficked for sexual exploitation every minute. Many of them end up in the brothels of Mumbai. Anita writes about the work of Oasis India in tackling this evil trade.

“I woke up in a strange place. I was beaten and kept locked in a room for 2 days… I cried out loud, asking for help and to be returned to my village but nobody paid any attention. For three days I didn’t eat then I was brutally raped in succession by 3 men. My nightmare had begun. I serviced customers every day, sometimes up to 30 customers a day… I did not have a choice, I was their slave!”

Sarita was trafficked as an 18 year old from a village in Karnataka. She was taken overnight in a car to a brothel in Mumbai under the guise of getting a job. Oasis rescued her and she was placed in a government home. The night she was rescued she found out she was pregnant and HIV positive. The Oasis counsellor was able to restore hope in her and she is now in an Oasis vocational training course. Sarita informed Oasis that they were the only ones who gave her any encouragement. “As for my future, I want to stand on my own two feet and help others… I have flashbacks all the time and I feel so much shame. Men have taken everything from me… When I feel low, I pray about it… I know that Jesus is with me.”

Modern-day slavery unfortunately is alive and well. EUROPOL has stated that the profit from human trafficking has become the second highest grossing black market activity in the world.1 Today it is estimated that two children per minute are trafficked for sexual exploitation. However, international recognition of human trafficking is fairly recent and has only now begun to shift from criminalising the victims to supporting them. Unlike the historical slave trade, however, modern day human trafficking is underground and not plainly visible to the developed world.

In the last two years the Oasis anti-human trafficking team has intercepted 28 child trafficking victims who were being brought into the city for forced labour. This particular intervention focuses on transit points and rescues children before they reach the worksite or brothel. The Oasis Anti-Human Trafficking team has also performed several raids to rescue sex-slaves and slave labourers. Since July 2007 Oasis, in cooperation with local law enforcement agencies, has successfully rescued over 187 people.

Soon after a raid the rescued victim is taken to the police station. A case file is opened and reports are collected. The victim is then forced to wait for the caseworker to process their case. This could take anywhere from six months to three years. The whole experience of being enslaved, rescued, and post-rescue, is a traumatic life experience. The victim’s mental, emotional and physical state upon entering the home is often extremely fragile. Furthermore, in its current form the aftercare system is unacceptable. The victims are denied their possessions, they lose all access to the outside world, and have little freedom. Most times the homes are overcrowded, with sub-standard hygiene and sanitation. In addition, their physical and psychological trauma is not addressed. They may receive one government sponsored counselling session. It is not uncommon for traffickers to try to visit and threaten the victims in the government homes. Both non-governmental organizations and the government, along with the rescued victims, want to see a better aftercare system. An official at one government home in Mumbai (who declined to be named) told us, “My dream is to have a programme in place where each rescued victim would want to be there, where they will be able to make choices in their own rehabilitation, and that they will leave the home feeling good about themselves.”

Oasis, while being acutely aware that it can only scratch the surface, has been able to provide some health care and counselling, conduct life skills sessions, literacy classes and small amounts of vocational training in 3 homes. From 2010 in Mumbai Oasis plans to provide a fuller integrated programme in the home for young girls, combining health care and education, life skills and counselling, general skills, cognitive activities and creative activities. If Oasis is going to make a tangible difference we need to model complete aftercare. Potter’s Wheel is a property that was generously given to Oasis and that would be ideal for 24/7 care of rescued girls. Located 21 hours away from Bangalore it is a sprawling 3 acre wooded campus ideal for a safe home. Our dream is to see each survivor have the opportunity to come to terms with their pain and find restoration and healing.

Potter’s Wheel is intended to be a safe home and will be a facility where those rescued will feel safe and comfortable. They will have access to physical and psychological care all the time. They will have room to eat, sleep, play, and study without fear. The staff will also have access to them all the time. It will not look like a prison. Instead it will be a place where the girls are given space to grow, learn, and have the chance to live a happy life. Oasis’ job is not to transform but to allow space and insight and share love so God can transform and restore. The girls will be able to go through a tailor-made, wholistic, integrated programme, where gifts and skills are developed and where they are empowered to make positive choices regarding their future. There will be time, space and care so that the girls may be able to begin letting go of the shame from the past and move forward into a new, healthy way to live in community with others.