My wife, Annie, loves the movie A Knight’s Tale, which means I’ve watched it a number of times. It’s the story of a poor thatcher’s son who dreamed of becoming a knight. One day, while watching knights ride by dressed in their shiny armour, the boy asked his father if it was possible for someone to “change their stars.” He was asking if could he do the impossible and become a knight too, or was he destined to be a poor thatcher like his father. His father replied, “Anything is possible if you believe it enough.”
For many years, Freeset has worked hard at providing choices to enable women to find freedom from prostitution. While our focus has been on those who have already been robbed of their dignity and hope through inexplicable injustice, lately we’ve been asking a new question, “Why wait until little girls are stolen, sold into our neighbourhood and robbed of all innocence?”
With this question in mind, we believe it’s time to add a new aspect to our work. We need to keep working at the bottom of the cliff in Sonagacchi and in other red light areas but we also need to start working at the top. We need to offer women and young girls another choice through business activities operating at the source, the village level, and not just at the destination they are trafficked to.
Over the last ten years I’ve had the privilege of interviewing many women who’ve come to Freeset seeking freedom from prostitution. A question we always ask is, “Where do you come from?” For many, this question is another way of asking, “Where were you taken or trafficked from?” Over and over the answer given is, Murshidabad. In fact, 38% of all the women at Freeset are from Murshidabad villages.
Murshidabad is one of the poorest areas in India; 50-60% of the population lives below the poverty line and so they will resort to anything to make the money necessary to survive – even selling their daughters into the sex trade.
Trafficking in Murshidabad happens in three different ways.
1. Export: Girls are trafficked nationally and internationally with many ending up in Kolkata and Mumbai.
2. Local Market: Trafficking occurs within the district itself with girls being shifted from one area to another to fulfil the demands of Murshidabad’s own sex industry.
3. Import: The long and porous border with Bangladesh means Murshidabad is a trade route providing low risk opportunities for traffickers bringing girls from Bangladesh and Nepal into India and escorting them through the district to Kolkata.
I believe it’s possible to change the destiny of young girls in Murshidabad villages. I believe God’s heart is for freedom, not slavery. I’m looking forward to no longer hearing freedom stories from little girls and young women because they were neither stolen nor sold in the first place.
It’s time for us to endeavour to fence off the top of the cliff by establishing businesses in Murshidabad that will provide an alternative source of income for people so that, in this area at least, trafficking of young women for the sex trade will decrease and, maybe, even be overcome completely.
At their March meeting, the Mission Council of NZBMS passed the following motion:
We accept the recommendation that Murshidabad be included as a new field for tranzsend. Mission Council does this with an enthusiastic affirmation of Kerry and Annie H. and the work they have already undertaken. We encourage them to continue to explore the shape of this exciting new work, pledging our continuing prayer support and whatever other support we are able to provide.