Monday, April 23, 2007

India/Nepal Border: 21st Century Slave Trade

Meena Khatum, right, had to fight against brothel owners to be reunited with her son, Vivek.

INDIA/NEPAL BORDER (Nicholas Kristof for the NYT)- Anyone who thinks that the word “slavery” is hyperbole when used to describe human trafficking today should meet Meena Khatun. She not only endured the unbearable, but has also shown that a slave trader’s greed sometimes is no match for a mother’s love.

Human trafficking is the big emerging human rights issue for the 21st century, but it’s an awful term, a convoluted euphemism. As Meena’s story underscores, the real issue is slavery.

Meena was kidnapped from her village in north India by a trafficker and eventually locked up in a 13-girl brothel in the town of Katihar. When she was perhaps 11 or 12 — she remembers only that it was well before she had begun to menstruate — the slaver locked her in a room with a white-haired customer who had bought her virginity. She cried and fought, so the mother and two sons who owned the brothel taught Meena a lesson.

“They beat me mercilessly, with a belt, sticks and iron rods,” Meena recalled. Still, Meena resisted customers, despite fresh beatings and threats to cut her in pieces.

Finally, the brothel owners forced her to drink alcohol until she was drunk. When she passed out, they gave her to a customer.

When she woke up, Meena finally accepted her fate as a prostitute. “I thought, ‘Now I am ruined,’ ” she remembered, “so I gave in.”

Meena thus joined the ranks of some 10 million children prostituted around the world — more are in India than in any other country. The brothels of India are the slave plantations of the 21st century.

Every night, Meena was forced to have sex with 10 to 25 customers. Meena’s owners also wanted to breed her, as is common in Indian brothels. One purpose is to have boys to be laborers and girls to be prostitutes, and a second is to have hostages to force the mother to cooperate.

So Meena soon became pregnant. The resulting baby girl, Naina, was taken from Meena after birth, as was a son, Vivek, who was born a year later.

The two children were raised mostly apart from Meena. Meena alerted the police to her children’s captivity (the police were uninterested), so her owners decided to kill her...

READ THE FULL ARTICLE AT NYTimes.com

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