I’ve been reading about human trafficking for years.
If there’s a documentary about it, there’s a good chance I’ve watched it and can recommend it to you. I’ve read books, I can name off some of the big name organizations focused on eliminating it and rescuing victims, I know that trafficking for labor and sex happens both in the United States and overseas. I’ve read of horrific cases that seem so dark and so riddled with evil that they almost seem fabricated–how is it possible for humans to treat other humans with such contempt? The same is true for hearing stories of children left to fend for themselves. How can adults watch children, five year olds taking care of one year olds, and not feel the overwhelming sadness of it? How can people watch and do nothing?
The difference for me now is after going to India, and being just minutes away from the Red Light District (though I never went it), I have more than stories and statistics.
I have people.
I have relationships.
I have face-to-face moments I shared with tiny human beings who have personalities and are real people.
I have three little faces* looking up at me with dark, trusting eyes, and I hear that they watched their father set their mother on fire and that she died in front of them. These ones? These little ones, 7, 5 and 2, who still somehow smile and play–two boys and a little girl. She’s too young to remember, which is the only mercy, but the older boys surely must remember something. The oldest boy wakes up from naptime crying almost every day. All the kids protest, but he fights me with a particular distress. It occurs to me that maybe he remembers something.
It’s not a story. It’s not an impersonal, distant statistic.
It’s a reality, and it’s their reality.
It’s not “so many children are suffering with AIDS”, it’s our little Sultan*, who looks more like a three year old than a six year old, and more like a little elderly man with his missing teeth.
He sleeps most of the day, and was feverish and lethargic when I first arrived, but finally started school for the first time the last week I was there, and it’s an exciting triumph. He didn’t warm up to me too much in the time I was there, since he has his favorite “didi” (the name the children call us all: “sister”), but he did climb into my lap once to laugh at videos on my phone. He was so small in my lap. He has siblings, much older siblings, but doesn’t want anything to do with them and throws temper tantrums. I’m not sure why.
It’s not “ex amount of children are living on the streets alone”. It’s the fairest Indian boy I’ve seen yet, with bright blue eyes that make him look like more like a European. I find out that his funny little swagger and tough guy nature that causes him to lash out occasionally with his fists probably kept him alive while he lived homeless from two years. He’s about eight now. He’s so young. How is it possible?
It’s not “such and such children grow up in the brothels their mothers work in”, it’s this little one and the fact that her mom was swinging her into a brick wall by her hair in the brothels when the girls found her.
She’s been taken back by her mom twice, and if she comes a third time, Rahab’s won’t be able to keep her. Her eyes are huge and her smile is contagious. She’s so beautiful, even now with her short hair that had to be cut to help with the lice all the kids share, and I can’t fathom it as I look at her. How could someone look at this little doll and harm her?
And on and on and on it goes.
But even as I share here, I realize they could be reduced to stories. It almost feels sacrilegious or disrespectful to share, somehow. I choose to, still, because meeting them changed my perspective on things. What I previously categorized as an atrocity that was predominantly a woman’s struggle I now see as a dark claw that reaches past women to children, both boys and girls, and men as well. There is no cinematic glamor or grit about it and it should never be simplified with dramatics. Please understand me when I write the words that are so unflinching and so uncompromising: it was real.
And now that I know, now that I’ve seen, now that I’ve been there… now what?
What is the next step?
What can I do?
What can I say?
Sometimes I feel that sharing my experiences means that I should have an answer or a “lesson learned” or a sunny bow to tie everything up with by the end of the blog. I usually do. But this is heavy and today I don’t have answers… other than I know with every fiber of my being that I’ll fight this.
Satan is a nasty foe, but Jesus has already overcome.