Worldwide Locations

Worldwide Locations

'The Selling of Innocents'

A still "The Selling of Innocents" (1996) Film by Ruchira Gupta

A still "The Selling of Innocents" (1996) Film by Ruchira Gupta

Q & A with Ruchira Gupta and Nancy Ely-Raphel

Question
I just wanted to know whether this is basically a question of poverty, and until most of the resources are spent to remove the poverty, will it continue? Don’t you think so?

Ruchira Gupta
It’s a combination of two things. Of course poverty is one of the fundamental reasons why trafficking does happen, but it’s also sexism, and it’s also the low status of girls in society. So this issue is almost like the intersection of poverty and sexism. Why should girls become the first resource in poverty? And why are fathers willing to let their daughters go?

Moderator
Nancy, do you have anything to add?

Ambassador Ely-Raphel
No, I would just say also we’ve seen cases in the United States in middle-class families where people have been involved in trafficking…young girls who answer on the internet invitations from oversees. One not too long ago, was a young girl in South Carolina who ended up in Greece trafficked, so it cuts across all economic boundaries.

Moderator
Although clearly there’s some economic issues in terms of having options or not having options.

Ambassador Ely-Raphel
Right, absolutely. Around the world that’s true, but I would keep my eyes open in my own neighborhood as well, and see who’s working in your gardens, and who’s working in the houses in the neighborhood. Some of them may be trafficked.

Moderator
Great. Thank you.

Question
I have a question about the madams in the film. There wasn’t a lot. You didn’t show us very much about their backgrounds or how they got involved in what they were doing. If you could, tell us a little bit more.

Ruchira Gupta
The madams are mostly Nepali in the brothel district and they are sort of the prostitutes who were more successful and could save a little money and buy over a few beds, and then hold brothels. They were brought in actually by Tibetan madams and when the Indo-China war happened and these Tibetan madams handed over the brothels to some of the trusted prostitutes in their brothels, and that’s how these women became madams. The reason that there were Tibetan madams in the brothels in Bombay is because the British had set up this whole area as a red light area for British soldiers. And they were licensed brothels at that time, and they used to have welcome signs on them. You know, you’ll see when you go to Bombay, Welcome House #67, which means the license number was 67. And the British had brought in Tibetan madams to run these brothels at that time. So there’s a whole history behind this.

Question
I’d like to know about what efforts and organizations are addressing this particular situation in terms of providing education, food, shelter, escape, and how we can help, very specifically. Thanks.

Ambassador Ely-Raphel
Well in the United States there are any number of organizations that are providing assistance to trafficked victims here in the United States--providing shelters, providing psychological counseling, providing protection for them while they’re here in the United States. Our embassies across the world are soliciting proposals from the local NGOs, and also from governments, that want to deal with and try to combat trafficking in persons in those countries. And so it’s a combination of indigenous NGOs, governments, local social organizations, any organizations that will work to help either integrate victims back into their home countries or provide shelters, and counseling, and assistance to victims.

Ruchira Gupta
Particularly in this situation in Bombay what we’ve done is, that as a consequence of making this film, we started an organization called Apne Aap with the 22 women who had helped me make this documentary. And now the organization is 700 members strong and we are also helping 55 of the daughters of the women in prostitution, and trying to keep them out of prostitution. So we have immediate relief which we’ve provided to the women inside the red light area, and we’re also trying to get the leadership of these women to be heard at the highest possible levels, and to actually bring about a change in mindsets of men and policy-makers to do more work against sex trafficking.