India ranks high on the list of countries where commercial sexual exploitation of underage girls occurs. With the extreme poverty, religious traditions and societal prejudice toward women, thousands of girls are bought and sold in every state of India. The lenient law enforcement system has allowed for the flourishing trade. Once the girl is sold to a brothel keeper, she becomes a virtual slave of the industry. She is beaten, threatened, verbally abused and forced to have sex with many men every day. Although there are no accurate statistics of child prostitutes, experts on child trafficking agree the numbers lie between 400,000 and 500,000 children.
Restore International, http://www.restoreinternational.org/, follows Christ’s mandate to care for the poor and the orphaned and to bring justice for the oppressed (Jeremiah 22:3). It is because of this that Restore’s team seeks the rescue and restoration of young girls like Darja and Asha* (whose stories are told below) who have been forced into prostitution.
Asha was sold into prostitution by her aunt at the age of twelve. When she refused to comply, she was beaten, whipped and had her arm burned by cigarettes. Asha tried to run away several times (once by jumping out a window in the brothel), but she was immediately re-captured and severely punished. “I tried to kill myself three times, by cutting my wrists and by jumping from the terrace,” Asha relates. “I thought, ‘It is better to die than live in such a place, where there is no one to help me.’”
Founded in December 2004, Restore International (1) rescues and rehabilitates children who have been forced into prostitution and (2) pursues the prosecution of the perpetrators. The Restore team coordinates investigators, police liaisons, advocates and local legal professionals to locate minor girls and then use the legal system to rescue them. After doing the investigative work, Restore works with local police to plan and initiate raids on a brothel to rescue the minors. The girls are then initially placed in government custody homes and later transferred to aftercare homes. Restore International provides counseling to the girls and assists local advocates who help navigate the criminal case through the courts.
Since its inception a year ago, the Restore team has investigated and assisted in raiding a number of brothels, which has resulted in the rescue of over seventeen minors and the arrest of their perpetrators. Restore International has also helped eliminate United States funding of an advocacy organization called SANGRAM, whose related entity, VAMP, is an organization whose members included brothel owners. These entities opposed Restore’s efforts to free children located in the brothels.
Rescuing young minor girls from brothels is not without risk. In October 2005, Restore conducted follow-up investigations to ensure that previously-rescued girls had not been returned to prostitution by brothel owners. During this investigation, however, Restore’s team became the victims of an attack by the brothel owners and sex traffickers. Restore’s team had arrived at the location only two days before and were looking for a little girl named Darja. In the raid previously conducted in this red light area, thirteen brothel keepers had been arrested for selling little girls to their customers. The arrests enraged the brothel owners and others in the red light area. For the first time in longer than anyone could remember, India’s own laws against child trafficking were being enforced in the Sangli red light area.
Darja had been rescued from one of the brothels earlier; however, when the court prematurely released her to her parents, she was sent back into prostitution. This tragedy occurs from time to time and illustrates the need to educate the judiciary regarding the manner in which the victims of sex trafficking must be treated. Accordingly, Restore International’s efforts include pursuing judicial relief and accountability through various appeals which Restore has filed, including one presently pending before India’s high court in Bombay.
On the same day the team was attacked, Restore president, Bob Goff, and a team of investigators went to the tribal village where another released girl was supposed to be found with the family she was released to. The villagers were not pleased to see Restore’s team as they had just sold the young girl to a brothel for US$40. The eight-foot square thatched hut (which the authorities would have found had they done the mandatory home inspections required before release) was easily located. Had the girl not been released in violation of applicable laws, she would not have been swept back into the sex-trade cycle.
It is these kinds of tragic events that keep the Restore team focused on their mission. Girls like the one mentioned above need to know the promise of Isaiah 14:13: “And it shall come to pass that in the day that the Lord shall give you rest from your sorrow and your fear and from the hard bondage wherein you were made to serve.”
In another incidence, members of the Restore team decided to attempt to locate a minor girl in the Gokul Nadar red light area and to gather evidence for local police, who would then bring her to safety. The team also sought to provide proof that some of the thirteen brothel owners who had been arrested in earlier raids were back in the red light area in violation of the court’s orders. Such evidence would provide a further basis for Restore’s pending request that the entire red light area be shut down.
Unfortunately, one of Restore’s undercover operatives had his cover blown. When he hastily called on his cell phone for help, he indicated that he had been surrounded by a growing mob that had begun to beat him. The brothel owners who had been recently arrested and stripped of the young girls who they peddled were enraged that their trade had been disrupted.
Restore’s team rushed in to rescue the operative from danger. Within two minutes, nearly a hundred people had gathered and had him on the ground. By the time Restore’s team was able to get him in the car, the crowd had swelled to several hundred people. Although there was momentary safety inside, the mob soon began throwing rocks at the car.
Fortunately, one of Restore’s operatives was able to make his way to the police station across town. The authorities soon arrived and the crowd quickly disbursed. The team came through with only a few minor scrapes and bruises.
These kinds of events, however, do not stop those involved with Restore International from fulfilling their mission to rescue these young girls who have been kidnapped and sold into brothels. By enforcing India’s existing laws, bringing accountability to the system and bringing justice to the perpetrators, Restore’s team believes that change can indeed occur in this system of modern-day slavery.
Standing up for the defenseless will exact a price; however, the rewards will be beyond measure. And these rewards are priceless. These rewards include freedom for young girls such as Darja and Asha.
For three years, Asha lived and worked in a brothel. This is what she says of her rescue:
“A man came to my brothel and was taken to my room. I thought he was a customer. He said, ‘I won’t do anything to you, just tell me about yourself.’ A few hours later, the brothel was raided and the same man came again. After I was rescued and came to this Oasis home, I started to change. I saw [the movie] “The Passion of the Christ” and I realized how much God had done for me, and I started to believe in Jesus. I asked God to forgive my sins, and then I began to start forgiving others. I am a person who never said sorry, but now I can say sorry when I hurt someone else. I have forgiven my parents and my aunt.”
In Matthew 18:10-14 Jesus goes out to find the one sheep that is lost. So too Restore International pursues the rescue of children who are being oppressed. Each one of these girls is a precious treasure. We search for the one girl who is being abused in prostitution until we find her, remove her from the brothel and place her in safety. This we will continue to do as we are commissioned by the Lord in Isaiah 1:17: “Seek justice, encourage the oppressed, defend the cause of the fatherless…”
*Names have been changed to protect identity