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

Question
This question is for Ms. Gupta. I wanted to know if there are any specific organizations that are working for the rehabilitation of the children?

Ruchira Gupta
Yes, there is a really good organization in Bombay called PRAVNA which is helping the children of the women in prostitution. This organization runs a night crèche where the children can actually come and sleep while their mothers are servicing their clients. They help children till they’re about twelve years old. And you saw in the last frame in the film that set-up. But after the age of twelve, these girls become vulnerable because there’s no place for them to go to, and they’re really at the brink of being pushed into prostitution. Our group is struggling to try and prevent them from getting into prostitution. If you want to know more about our group there are pamphlets outside. It’s called Apne Aap and you can also look at our website and get more information.

Question
My sentiment from the film was that, at least with the organization that you depicted conducting the raid, that they had difficulty working with the local government. I wonder if you could talk a little bit about the effectiveness of working with local governments, as you’ve seen with local NGOs...whether or not it’s easier to remove themselves from that connection to be effective...or...talk about the difficulties with that.

Ruchira Gupta
The police actually makes money from the whole red light area in many different ways. They extort money from the women in prostitution. They actually collect pay-offs from the madams who are running the brothels. And so they almost have a vested interest in letting this sex industry continue, and they don’t really do much to prevent children from being sold into prostitution. In fact recently, last year, there was an ABC 20/20 team down in Bombay, and they interviewed the chief of police who said, “Oh, so what can we do about prostitution? It’s the oldest profession in the world.” And my answer to him was that it can’t be older than hunting...and anyway, without the institutions in place, how could prostitution exist? Obviously this is a very callous response to such a deep-rooted problem. And for NGOs to work with the police...they do try because you can’t really work outside the government...you have to engage with the government at many different levels to exist and do something effective...and there are some good cops and bad cops and we try to work with the good ones. In terms of the rescue, there’s a big problem in terms of mass rescues of women in prostitution because the government sometimes is not equipped to handle all these women when they come out of the brothels. And many of these girls end up going back to the brothels. Sometimes they are married off as a sort of welfare measure to some men who again start pimping for these girls as individual pimps…instead of brothel-based sex. And also you need to have reintegration and rehabilitation programs set-up for the women so that they don’t have to face stigma and discrimination when they go back to the villages. So the rescue and the steps thereafter have to be really well thought out before it can be done. And it’s very problematic to dash into a brothel in sort of martyred or angelical way and try to rescue the women because there’s nothing after that sometimes.

Moderator
Nancy, do you have any closing remarks? I know you have to leave soon.

Ambassador Ely-Raphel
I would add to that, the International Organization on Migration has programs in a number of countries around the world where they actually go and receive the...and this is reintegrating victims back into their home countries...and try to find shelters and alternative economic employment for these women. It doesn’t involve a lot, and we want to increase this program and get more NGOs around the world to do this. But this is one of the major problems is to make sure that when the women return they are welcomed and received back into their home countries and have an alternative to prostitution, so that they have some way of earning a living and supporting their families.

Question
I saw some educational programs for women in that film. But are they actually any programs where men can go and learn about these issues at the local level? Other than AIDS prevention programs are there any?

Ruchira Gupta
It’s beginning in small pockets all over the world. In the U.S. itself there’s a program run by an organization called SAGE in California where they actually are training and working with the clients and customers, “johns” as their known here. In India my organization is trying to actually create a whole program, a module to work with men who are in the lives of these women, and these could be the customers, the sons, the pimps, the brothel owners, and to deal with all the different issues around sex and sexuality, because as you very rightly said, “why are the men coming to the women and what is keeping this industry going?” It is the way I think that we bring up the boys and how we socialize them in terms of…wanting what kind of sex, sex with who, what kind of social relationships do they build up with the girls, and can they talk about sex with beauty, and not sex with violence.

Question
This is a very depressing and very powerful movie. I would like to know whether any effort has been made to have this kind of documentary shown in villages where these girls and women come from?

Ruchira Gupta
This film has been dubbed into six languages with the help of UNAIDS. It’s been dubbed into Thai, Vietnamese, Bengali, Nepali, Hindi and Tagalog. And we’re distributing it for free to NGOs to show in villages, so that it can be used as an advocacy tool against trafficking. And I have a personal experience in Nepal...I was actually traveling with the film in some of the villages, and a father actually came up to me and he said that, “I did not know that Bombay was like this. I’ll never let my daughter go.” And I thought that was the best response to my film possible.

Question
That touches on exactly what I wanted to ask. First of all, what is the level of awareness at the village level of what life will actually be like for the daughter and the sisters or whatever who are sold? Is it a case where brothers and fathers are just in a state of complete denial like, “no, this isn’t going to happen to her,” or is it more of an ignorance thing, that they genuinely don’t know that this is what’s in store? And secondly, is there any sign of that changing? Your documentary is obviously an important first step, but are there other sort of grass-roots things that are happening in the villages to educate families as to what the consequences of this are?

Ruchira Gupta
All of the things that you said are true, that there’s some ignorance, there’s some denial, there’s some complicity. The girls are now coming back from Bombay with AIDS. AIDS in fact in Nepal is known as the Bombay disease. So it’s a combination of all these things, and sometimes an image like this just makes people confront the reality because sometimes there are parents that think Bombay is just a life style. It’s like Pretty Woman that a girl might go to Bombay and she might become a prostitute, but it will be really wonderful for her, and she will be servicing a client where she will get food at the end of the day and live in a beautiful house. Their vision of Bombay is based on Hindi movies and some TV commercials. So yes, it’s a combination of all these things and you have to keep trying to create awareness. There are lots of wonderful NGOs who are now doing really good work in Nepal, and Thailand, and the Philippines, and all over the world on these issues, wherever there are resource areas. One of the programs which is very successful is run by Maiti Nepal. Maiti Nepal is training girls who are actually survivors of trafficking to go from village to village to talk about their stories. And this has been a really successful method of combating trafficking because people believe these stories, and they know there is a reality and a genuineness there. So that’s one program. Maiti Nepal again has another very innovative program where they’ve trained some of these girls who have come back from Bombay as border guards. And they actually stand along the India-Nepal border keeping an eye out for possible traffickers. And if they see a suspicious-looking man or woman going across the border with three or four girls they actually go and they talk to the girls and they say, “do you know what you could be going to?” And they have these transit homes and they bring the girl back, and escort her back home. So you know, people are trying in many different ways, but again travel has become much easier, poverty is increasing, the status of girls is still as low, the mafia networks are increasing, and the same people who are trading in drugs, in girls and in arms are all working together, so there are other forces which are pushing this trade again and again.