SANLAP SHELTER AND THE RED LIGHT DISTRICT
We arrived at Sanlaap Shelter which is approximately a 1 hour ride into the country.
We had a conversation with one of the directors there , a wonderful and dedicated women named Priyanka, who explained what it is like for the girls after they get rescued from the red light district and put into their care. The young girls have a 3 month integration time whereby they live in a house separate from the group that have been there longer. They have very loose schedules as they have been severely abused and traumatized, so this time is meant to be therapeutic. It is difficult to fathom that it is so complicated to get a minor child out of a brothel… There has to be viable and credible information in order for the police to preform a raid, as prostitution is legal for women over the age of 18. Even though there is a high demand for young female children among men in India, there are some johns that take pity on the children and they sometimes will allow the girls to call their parents to tell them that they have been kidnapped and held against there will.
There are currently 137 girls at this shelter. The resiliency of these children is awe inspiring. Sanlaap teaches them to sew and to do block printing. I was guided through the process of Batik’ing a linen scarf with one of the girls.These girls are like any other kids you may know. They love to play games, sing and dance. When you see the physical scars on their bodies, it is a painful reminder that their childhoods have been tragically eclipsed by their abusers. Many of the seva participants who are on the tour, have girls at home. they say their girls are just like these girls on the surface, except they are not…They have been kidnapped, brutalized, tortured, raped, and forced to use drugs in order to be compliant with the horrendous and unimaginable things they were being forced to do.
The active sex workers here are victims of sexual violence themselves and were trafficked as children. They want to protect their children from the same fate. These sex workers are shunned by he Indian society, therefore, it is virtually impossible for them to get out and work in another trade.
Sanlaap center provides a ” drop in center” for the children of these active sex workers in the red light district of Bowbazar, Kolkata. If not for this center, these children would be either under or next to the bed that their mother is servicing clients on.
THE RED LIGHT DISTRICT
After our visit to Sanlaap, we were given unprecedented access to the red light area. Priyanka escorted us, as our convoy of vehicles descended on the red light district of Bowbazar. There are no adequate words to convey the palpable feeling of poverty, desperation, and evil. This is the Hades or underworld that I have read about in Greek mythology. The only thing missing were the flames in the background.
This place has left an indelible wound on my heart and soul. Walking down that 3block stretch seemed like an eternity. The putrid smell of the combination of body fluids that you can only imagine was overwhelming, was the indicator that We had passed a brothel. There were at least 25 or more brothels in that small area, and many young children being abused within the walls.
As Priyanka navigated us through the maze, we reached the ” drop in center”
This was a place where heaven and hell coexisted simultaneously. There were about 25 children cramped into this tiny place where they are supervised, given supplemental education and a meager amount to eat while their mothers are working. They all one by one sweetly and with great pride announced their names and where they were from.The female children ( only 4 were girls ) did a Indian dance for us. The boys did many Bollywood routines that where absolutely hysterical. They could have preformed for us all day, but we had to be out before sunset.
It was and still is so difficult to comprehend that this is the norm for these children.
Organizations like Sanlaap continue to work selflessly to prevent this from happening to current and future generations.
Sanlaap can currently only run the drop in center until 8 p.m. This leaves the children with no place to be between the hours of 8 pm and 7 am.
I continue my commitment to support this cause. If you are interested in helping to fund Sanlaap’s evening drop in center, OTM is working on raising funds to cover the cost. The cost of running the drop in center is $ 600 per month , which covers rent, teacher salaries, night watchman and some food. We will be making a commitment to cover the next 3 years. The total cost will be $21, 600.
If you would like to learn more about Sanlaap, please see my Partners and Projects blog.
With gratitude and love
Abolish 21st Century Slavery