It can be comforting to consider the progress that humanity has made in regards to human rights and freedoms over the centuries. However, despite these advancements, right now we are sharing this planet with 29.8 million individuals who have been forced or sold into slavery. 29.8 million. Let that sink in for moment. That means there are more people in slavery today than at any other time in human history. India in particular has the highest concentration of human “slaves,” as nearly half (over 14 million) of the people living in slavery reside within the country’s borders. An even more chilling realization is the devastating reality of the human trafficking of young girls in India into the sex industry.
“Every 8 Minutes” is a documentary, and human rights campaign, that works to bring the world’s attention to this issue. The movement gets its name from the statistic that every 8 minutes a child in India goes missing. Most of these children are young girls between the ages of 12-14, with some as young as 5. In the documentary, Bina Rani, Founder and CEO of iPartner India, the organization that started the “Every 8 Minutes” campaign, tells the story of a young girl named Lakshmi. As Rani recounts, Lakshmi was only six years old when she was sold into slavery. Rani rescued Lakshmi from a brothel, where, as she describes, she found her covered with cuts, wounds, gashes from knives, and cigarette burns on her body. Lakshmi was rescued, but Rani brings attention to the fact that there remains over a million more young girls in India that are in similar, or worse, conditions, and still need help. The destruction of the human trafficking industry is impossible to imagine, and made so much more devastating when we consider how many of its victims are innocent young children just like Lakshmi.
The sex industry is not the only one children are sold into. Millions are spending their lives as laborers forced to do work in dangerous conditions; as child soldiers forced to murder, fight and die for warlords or government agencies; or they are sold as mere property to pay off the “debt bondage” of their parents. Of the millions of enslaved children in India, a massive 1.2 million of all trafficked children are believed to be sold in the sex industry alone.
The gravity of the human trafficking industry in India cannot be understated, but, as often happens, Americans should not exotify this issue, or catalogue it as strictly an issue that happens in far, foreign, corners of the world; for Bay Area resident (and especially Oaklanders), the selling of young girls into prostitution is something that happens closer to home than most might imagine. According to statistics from UNICEF, and the Polaris Project, every year over 100,000 young girls are sold into prostitution in the United States, with California being the state with the highest concentration. The trafficking of underage girls into the sex industry is a thriving operation in Oakland, and the city is considered the “epicenter of a trafficking triangle between San Francisco & Contra Costa counties”. In fact, 46% of all prosecuted cases of sex trafficking in the entire state of CA happened in Alameda County. The selling of children into sexual slavery is happening all around us. The corner where you get your favorite tacos in East Oakland, could be the very same spot that a young girl lost her human right to bodily autonomy, and was forced into prostitution.
The reality of the selling, exploitation, and enslavement of children around the world is an issue that belongs to everyone. There is no citizen of this globe that is not contributing to, or dealing with the consequences of this horrifying reality. There are so many ways to help, either by reaching out to help local organizations such as Love Never Fails Us or local Oakland pioneer Regina of Regina’s Door that work to end human trafficking, or by donating to campaigns like Every 8 Minutes. One cannot practice ignorance in the presence of this information, and I am finding myself with only one question remaining for me to confront: what will I do about it? And I am begging you to ask yourself the same. Watch the Every 8 Minutes trailer below.
Haley de Genova is a UC Berkeley graduate, where she studied Ethnic Studies and Human Rights. She is a legal assistant for a non-profit in SF, and in her free time enjoys hiking in the East Bay regional parks, local politics, fighting for human rights, and shark week. She resides in Oakland.