Today we visited an organization that works with the children of trafficked women for the commercial sex trade. Academically our students are here studying the issue of human trafficking, especially how it relates to Southern Asia…
The place we visited was in the heart of the Mumbai slums red light district. This small school and night center provides what often makes up the only refuge that these children have from the conditions around them. About 60 children gathered to make Macaroni art and bead bracelets with us, from ages 4 to 16. Most had never seen a white person before… Let alone an American.
They laughed and played with us for several hours. When I was not looking, the children would sneak up to rub my cotton socks; as I was the only person from my group wearing them and these children wear sandals… if any shoes at all. They sang local children’s songs and tried to teach us to count in Hindi.
One young boy asked where I was from. When I said Nebraska, he asked “What is that by?” Thinking of the nearest place he might have heard of, even though it is no where close, I said Chicago. Again he looked at me and said “Where?” I broadened my statement and said “the United States.” He looked at me and said “Which continent is that on?”
These kids live with violence and danger on the streets, mothers trapped in human sex trafficking, and the majority have been victims of the most heinous of crimes. Despite this, they laughed and played not unlike any other child I have watched play at home. They were quick with a smile and eager to share India with us.
They got together in a large group and giggled as we danced the hooky-pokie together. Several of the older children to thank us and invite us to come back every year…
They don’t receive many visitors.
When we left the school, our tour took us on a quick walk around the block. As we tried to cross the main intersection to walk down a slum lane, a local cop monitoring traffic stop and would not let us travel down the lane because of the danger to us; even as he let local women and children run by.
The stares that we got from the locals seemed to pierce right through your skin. As we walked back to the bus, I felt as though any of the hundreds of men lining the street could have jumped us at any second. There eyes and their posture made it clear that we were not welcome in their neighborhood. Without a doubt the peril of this place far exceeded any where I had been before. In that moment the immense weight of danger and fear that these children endure everyday came crashing down upon my soul.
As we rode the bus back to the hotel, I pondered how humanity could allow children to live in such conditions and turn a blind eye to their plight. They are laughing, loving kids just like my daughter. When I returned to my room, I did the only thing a rational person could…