'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

Keynote Address by Nancy Ely-Raphel
Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons
US Department of State

I'm grateful for the opportunity to speak to you today about the problem of trafficking in persons. Unfortunately this issue has escaped the notice of far too many people, not out of neglect or indifference but because of an insufficient awareness and understanding of the nature of the problem. I want to describe for you what trafficking in persons means, define in general terms the law or legal definition, and broadly outline the dimensions of the problem in the United States and in Asia. Finally I want to set forth what can be done about it, including what the US government is now doing and what we can all do by working together. 'Trafficking in Persons,' as it is called, is something of a euphemism. Like many catchall phrases in popular currency that minimize or conceal complex problems, the term itself falls short of self-definition. This helps account for public unawareness or bewilderment as to what it means. Some of you may have asked yourselves that question. In essence 'Trafficking in Persons' is the modern day form of slavery. It is the commerce in human beings, a commerce in which individual lives have no value except as a commodity to be exchanged in the marketplace, like soybeans, livestock or oil futures for the purpose of realizing the best market price. Such commerce violates every moral principal that governs our society. It is not only a violation of fundamental human rights but a federal crime. Nevertheless the trade in human lives persists.

Slavery and involuntary servitude have been outlawed in the United States since the Civil War. Statutes enacted since then have outlawed peonage and other forms of forced labor or other involuntary services. Congress recently acted to expand these laws under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000. The international community has also responded. A Protocol on trafficking in persons supplements the UN Transnational Crime Convention.

Trafficking in persons is the use of force or deception to exploit men, women, and children to the profit of the traffickers and those who use their indentured labor. More specifically it is any act that recruits, abducts, transports, transfers, or sells individuals within national or across international borders through the use of force, fraud or deception. Their criminal intent is to exploit their victim through various forms of bondage. It has many guises. In the United States trafficking victims can be found in a variety of places and positions, some highly visible but most not conspicuous at all. Victims have been coerced into begging on the streets of New York to exploit their physical handicap. They have been forced into performing in strip clubs, in peep and touch shows, in promiscuous massage parlors that offer a variety of sexual services, and, of course, into prostitution. They also work in the obscurity of the underclass, as menial workers for pitiful wages in bondage for a debt that can never be repaid. In short, they work in sweatshops, in brothels, at construction projects, at the lowest paid jobs in the poultry, fish and meatpacking industries, and as migrant labor in our fields and orchards. Whether you live in the suburbs or the city, they may even work just around the corner from you in silent and submissive domestic servitude.

What is the scope of the trafficking problem to the United States? We estimate that approximately 45,000-50,000 women and children are trafficked to the United States each year. The practice is prevalent in all regions. There have been reports of trafficking in at least 20 different states, with most cases occurring in New York, California, Florida. Evidence suggests that state and local law enforcement have only scratched the surface of the problem. As an underground industry, trafficking is extremely difficult to uncover or expose. Illegal immigrants are particularly vulnerable to threats and intimidation. Ignorant of our laws, the victims are isolated further by language and cultural barriers.

In the past victims have traditionally come from Southeast Asia and Latin America. Increasingly, however, they are now arriving as well from Eurasia and Central and Eastern Europe. At present the primary source countries for the United States include Thailand, Vietnam, China, Mexico, Russia, Ukraine, the Philippines, and Korea.

Political instability, civil war, natural disasters, poverty, lack of educational or job opportunities, and discriminatory social or cultural practices, all contribute to the trafficking in persons.

In Asia young women and children are especially vulnerable to traffickers. Unemployment, stagnant or disintegrating economic and social structures, as well as their perceived inferior status has driven many to seek better opportunities in other nations or abroad. They are easy prey to trafficking hucksters who promise high and easy wages under the best working conditions in lively, exciting metropolitan cities. Traffickers typically lure women abroad with the false promises of jobs as models, domestics, dancers, waitresses, nannies, models, and factory workers. They not only recruit foreign women and men through fraudulent advertising but also through employment, travel, model, or matchmaking agencies. Many women and men fall victim to seemingly reputable but unlicensed or unregulated employment agencies that are just as fraudulent.

Young women from Thailand have been brought to the United States and forced into virtual sex slavery. Ethnic Korean-Chinese women have been held as indentured servants in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

Because it is an underground industry, it is difficult to judge with precision the magnitude of global trafficking in human beings. World wide the U.S. government estimates that approximately 700,000 women and children are trafficked across international borders each year - and this does not include trafficking within national boundaries. Trafficking in persons, particularly women and children, is significant on every continent.

We estimate that approximately 225,000 women and children are trafficked across international borders in Southeast Asia annually. In South Asia we estimate that approximately 150,000 women and children are trafficked across borders each year. These figures do not include trafficking within countries.

In numerous countries in Asia the unequal status of women and girls and a culture that regards women as property, as commodities, as servants, and sexual objects has worked to the advantage of traffickers. These stereotypes coupled with low literacy rates for girls and few opportunities to attend school or learn a trade, especially in poor rural areas in developing Asian countries make girls and women more vulnerable to false promises of great job offers. These attitudes have abetted the promotion of sex tourism in Bangkok, for example. The increased incidence of HIV has led to the age of those trafficked into forced prostitution to decrease. Now many trafficking victims found in brothels in Asia are in their early teens. But Thailand is by no means alone. In India Sumithra was a victim of debt-bondage trafficking. Her parents owed a debt to a moneylender they were unable to repay. When she was 8 years old she was taken as collateral and forced to work off the debt. She labored five days a week from 6 am to 7 pm rolling 1,500 cigarettes per day. She earned 75 cents a day and was allowed one 30-minute break per day. If she failed to meet her quota, she was beaten.

Women and girls are by no means the only victims. In Pakistan Abdul Rahman was 12 years old when he was kidnapped from his village and taken to the United Arab Emirates and was forced to work as a camel jockey. Camel jockeys are tied to the camel. Their screams of terror make the camel run faster during the race. His owners fed him once a day so that he would remain at a slight 60 pounds. In the competition many children tumble off and are easily trampled, some fatally. One of the more fortunate child jockeys, Abdul ran away and was eventually sent home.

Criminals and criminal groups traffic in human beings because it is a high-profit and low-risk commerce, particularly in countries with little or no industry or trade. Unlike other commodities, people can be sold again and again. Narcotics or illegal weapons may pass through several hands before they find a final consumer. Not the victims of Traffickers. Their bondage never ends unless or until it is brought to official notice.

The United Nations estimates that trafficking in persons generates approximately $7 billion annually. That worldwide commerce is closely intertwined with other related criminal activities, such as extortion, racketeering, money laundering, drug use, gambling, and the bribery of corrupt public officials. The economic crisis in Asia as well as conflicts such as between Indonesia and East Timor have contributed to trafficking from those countries. Anecdotal evidence from areas plagued by civil disorders tell us that trafficking in narcotics and guns - in Afghanistan for example - may now evolve into trafficking in people. Like terrorists, narcotics and gun traffickers, they operate across national borders.

Trafficking in persons often involves other criminal activities, including conspiracy, document forgery, visa, mail and wire fraud. In America, Immigration and Naturalization Service raids on trafficker-controlled brothels have also netted heroin and counterfeit currency. The Wah Ching, an Asian organized crime group engaged in smuggling and trafficking in Asian women, is also involved in murder, robbery, gambling, drug trafficking and loan sharking. The Wah Ching also has connections to Asian organized crime groups in Boston, New York City, Los Angeles, Seattle, Dallas, Vancouver, and Toronto. In the United States, some traffickers have been known to supply their female victims with fraudulent state identification and social security cards. This involvement in a multitude of criminal operations and the ties among various criminal gangs and associations only serves to increase the burden on local, state, and federal law enforcement. So what are we doing about this inhuman commerce? The U.S. government is committed to combating trafficking in persons in the U.S. and around the world. I was appointed Senior Advisor to Secretary of State Colin Powell at the State Department to head the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. This is a completely new office responsible for with ensuring that federal agencies are coordinating their efforts here and abroad to combat trafficking in persons. The agencies we work with include the Departments of Justice, Health and Human Services, and Labor, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the Agency for International Development. Every year my office produces a report to Congress examining foreign governments' efforts to combat trafficking in persons.

Our strategy to fight trafficking in persons is a three front strategy, we call it the 3 P's: The Prevention and Protection of victims and the Prosecution of traffickers. Prevention of trafficking in persons includes supporting school and literacy programs, job training, alternative economic development programs, and public awareness campaigns. We now support public awareness campaigns that warn potential victims about trafficking in over 30 countries. Protection of victims includes supporting shelters and halfway houses, providing medical, psychological and counseling services to victims and repatriating them safely to their home countries. Prosecution of cases is key - it is important that these cases result in convictions and appropriate sentences. All three prongs require that we work with other countries to ensure that they have strong legislation criminalizing trafficking and protecting victims. Both domestically and internationally we must train law enforcement, prosecutors and judges in order to ensure that they are aware of these laws and able to conduct effective investigations against traffickers.

The Trafficking Victims and Violence Protection Act passed by Congress that I mentioned earlier became law in October 2000. This law criminalizes trafficking in persons in the United States. Before this, U.S. prosecutors had to use a variety of criminal, labor and immigration statutes to prosecute traffickers - and often the sentences against the traffickers were low and the victims were deported. Traffickers may face up to 20 years in prison, or life imprisonment in some cases, and have the profits they earned from enslaving people confiscated.

Victims of trafficking in persons to the U.S. are now given better protection. Before this law, trafficking victims were often deported as illegal aliens. Now, victims that cooperate with U.S. law enforcement in pursuit of trafficker may be given the right to stay in the U.S. and work - the T-visa.

Uncovering, investigating and prosecuting trafficking cases while protecting, assisting and repatriating victims is a complicated and resource-intensive task. Distinctions regarding trafficking in persons, alien smuggling and illegal migration are sometimes blurred. Whereas alien smuggling usually involves short-term monetary profit, trafficking in persons usually involves long-term exploitation for economic gain. Organized crime groups profit from both the trafficking fees and the trafficked person's labor. In some cases, the traffickers may profit even further by using the victims for other criminal purposes, such as selling drugs. Sometimes trafficking cases may be labeled as worker exploitation cases. And because traffickers can also re-sell debts to other traffickers or employers, victims are often caught in a cycle of perpetual debt bondage.

As I have indicated, Trafficking in persons is a global problem. Solving this problem and bringing relief to its many victims is only possible through cooperative efforts. This cooperation must occur between governments and non-governmental organizations at the federal, state, and local levels. Destination countries must work with transit and source countries to stem the flow of trafficking; and source countries must work not only to prevent trafficking, but also to help with the reintegration of trafficked victims back into their home society.

What can you do? You can organize an interagency working group including representatives from law enforcement, prosecutors, and NGOs to devise a plan or a working group on how to respond to trafficking in your community. Often when a trafficking ring is uncovered, there are numerous victims that are in need of shelter, medical attention, legal services, and language services. Community leaders should ask themselves - what would happen if tomorrow a sweatshop is raided and we find ourselves with 70 Thai victims? This happened in El Monte, California and could happen here.

You can also support poverty-alleviation programs abroad that are run by non-governmental and international organizations, or faith-based groups, and you can volunteer at community outreach centers for new immigrants. As Attorney General Ashcroft has said "trafficking is not only a serious violation of U.S. law but an affront to human dignity." It is the responsibility of all of us to stand together and unite in ending this modern form of slavery.

Thank you very much.

Now I welcome your questions.

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.

Moderator
And I know that recently Safe Horizon has started an anti-trafficking initiative.

Question
Hi as a journalist I’d be very curious to know how Ruchira got access to this, to allow you right in the brothels and to be in the midst of a raid where they found the girl with a white dress. I’d be very curious to know how you were able to do that. And secondly, just if you could comment at all on how ironical it is that there were all these men looking for these women, and the women are the ones who are actually, in a sense, oppressing the women. The brothels are run by women. I didn’t see that there were any sort of men--I mean I’m sure you could talk about patriarchy in the largest sense and all of that--but there is some sort of irony that there’s this Mr. Gupta looking and all these women are sort of hiding these other women. So just some comments on this.

Ruchira Gupta
It took me 18 months actually to get access inside the brothels and it wasn’t easy because I didn’t want to use any structure of power to get inside the brothels. So I did not use the help of any NGO, or the police, or the mafia in the area. I actually tried to strike up friendships with the women, and ultimately the reason that this film ever got completed was because these women wanted their stories to be told. At one point while we were making the film, one of the customers pulled out a knife and actually threatened me. And he said, “I’m not going to let you film here.” And the women surrounded me and they pulled me into their room and they said that, “We have allowed her here and she’s going to tell our story.” We were constantly threatened. Our cameraman was pulled sometimes. People would throw stones at our car. So we really had to film this whole documentary with great difficulty. In Nepal too we were constantly obstructed and there’s this sort of nexus between the police, the politicians, and the mafia, which is operating the system and allowing the system to exist. In many instances, the traffickers themselves are political agents for very senior politicians in Nepal. And we were trying to get to one village, where all the girls were trafficked from that village, and we were trying to actually walk to the village. And the politician from that area actually called up the local cop, and the cop tried to stop us. So then we had a helicopter to fly into that village. Our helicopter was stopped permission from landing...and taking off...15 minutes before we could go. So then we used a longer route and went in a roundabout way to get to that village, but it was really really hard and we had to smuggle the tapes out. And really it was because of the spirit of the women that the film ever got made. So that’s your first question.

 

The second is that, "Are these women oppressing women?" Yes, some women are oppressing other women, but that’s because they’re stuck...as you yourself answered in your own question...in the structures of patriarchy. And they’re feeding into this whole system of demands made by various men, and these are the customers, the money-lenders, the brothel owners who are mafia, and the police, who are allowing the system to exist to make a quick buck.

Moderator
And if I can just add, in terms of reflecting on what we said, it seems in the structure that the options that they have available...to take a cot outside if they have a few rupees saved up...or a leaning...it seems like being at the top of the brothel hierarchy is a much better option than those other options available.

Ruchira Gupta
To add to that, very few people get to the top of the brothel hierarchy. So it could be one woman in 10,000 who actually becomes a brothel madam. Most of them just end up dying by the time they’re 30 or 35, and they leave behind daughters who are then pulled into prostitution.

Question
In view of Ms. Raphel’s comments that open up the conversation in the preamble, perhaps the three “P’s” may...and we just heard a fourth “P”, poverty...and there’s a fifth “P” now, perhaps priority. There’s concern among some of us who work within the field, especially through the USAID, and in development, that for about 25 years now, since the Reagan administration, there’s been a sharp curtailment of something that might have worked to prevent some of that new generation in that last film. Of course the role of safe, and reasonable safe, abortions, which had been denied many of these groups and they’ve been a fray to it. And the second point I would ask for your comments on would be that in the UNICEF pattern, this past year as a matter of fact, in a meeting in Geneva, there was concern that some of the funds that were used for some of the programs that Ms. Raphel described have been curtailed and may have been abandoned. And one of the reasons is there’s been a lack of funds because of the Federal Government’s, our own government’s inability, or unwillingness, to pay its dues and its back rent for the U.N., and so some of these funds are denied. So perhaps this may reflect some disingenuousness. Can we have some reaction to that please?

Ambassador Ely-Raphel
On paying our U.N. dues, I would agree with you. It has been a very very embarrassing and terrible situation. However, the U.S. government is now in the process, and has been over the last year, of actually paying our dues, so we will no longer be derelict in our payments. We finally cut a deal that seems to be going through without any problem at this point.

Question
I was just wondering if you had any contact with women’s sex-workers’ collectives that I had heard had been organized in Bombay. And I know that some Cambodian sex-workers had gone to visit those women recently. And if you did have contact with them, if you could speak a little bit about what your opinion is of them?

Ruchira Gupta
Well the only group which is mobilizing the women in prostitution in Bombay is our group which is called Apne Aap. And there’s one in Calcutta which is mobilizing women in prostitution which is called the DMSC. There are other groups which are working in the red light area. Some have public health intervention and the other on is working with children in prostitution. We don’t use the term “sex-workers” because we don’t believe that sex is work. We believe that this is sheer exploitation, what is going on inside the brothels, and if we dignify it as work, than we actually demean the individual who is caught in this kind of slavery. So we use the term “women in prostitution” because a woman could be caught in prostitution for some time, but hopefully she can get out, and this is something which is temporary.

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.

Question
I wanted to ask about how someone like Gupta stays alive. Is he permitted to go in and do raids to make it look like they’re doing something? He’s maybe one person who’s allowed to go in and there’s an understanding about it? I worked in Japan in this industry and I saw that that was the case. How are he and people like him, who I think are doing great work, allowed to continue their work, and what are the underpinnings of that?

Ruchira Gupta
Actually the way he works is that he has this network of male volunteers who pretend to be clients, and then they go inside the brothels and they find out which girl wants to come out. And she sort of has to give a letter to say that she wants to come out so they actually have proof. And then they go in and get the girl out. He almost, I think, shames the police system by doing this and so it’s very hard for them to openly challenge him.

Question
It’s more a comment than a question. We’re working from the end of trying to help the girls in the trade, the bar girls and the prostitutes, become educated…whether it’s literacy, whether it’s learning skills, whatever they want to learn, including craft development…we working to build to the economic base so that the girls can either leave the business if possible or to work in the villages to enable families to increase their income so they don’t have to sell their girls into this.

Ruchira Gupta
Yeah I’ve seen actually their program in Thailand, and I think it’s a fabulous, fabulous program. Of course it’s a very good program.

Moderator
I just want to thank all of you for coming and I think some of the questions brought up really great ideas about what NGOs can do, what other people can do, what the government can do, and what the government possibly can’t do, or what NGOs can’t do…and what women can do and what you as people, as everyday citizens can do too.