In the wake of globalization and the resultant marginalization and alienation of large sections of humanity, sex trafficking has become a matter of urgent concern today worldwide. In India alone, over 200 thousand women and children are inducted into the flesh trade every year. The state of Andhra Pradesh is one of the largest suppliers of women and children for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation. Economic hardships coupled with the prevailing status of women in society, and changing public attitudes towards sex and morality creates the context for the flourishing of this modern-day form of slavery. A disturbing fact is that the age of the children is progressively declining to meet the male demand for younger prostitutes. There is a widely held belief that sex with children, especially virgins, will cure sexually transmitted diseases and prevent one from contracting HIV/AIDS. One of every four victims rescued from prostitution is a child, and 60% of these children are HIV positive.

Sonu’s family condition was poor, as her parents were daily wage earners. Seeing their daily struggles for survival, she often felt like helping her family. One day she met a lady who offered her a garment factory job in Pune. Without giving a second’s thought, she travelled with her to the city, hoping to earn money for her parents. To her shock, upon arrival Sonu was handed over to a brothel where she was forced to do prostitution. Although she was rescued two months later and kept in a government home, she escaped to continue helping her family and returned to prostitution by her own will. She also brought her sister to join her in Pune. Finally they were caught in a raid at a hotel and were sent through court order to Prajwala.

Sonu’s story reflects the experience of thousands of young girls from vulnerable circumstances who fall into traps of deception by people (traffickers) who promise them a better life. Yearning to escape dire poverty, debt or domestic abuse, these girls—most of whom come from rural villages with no educational background—are easily lured by the prospects of a stable job and the glamour of seemingly prosperous cities. The traffickers act very nicely, pretending to care for the girls’ well-being and offer their support; as a result the girls trust them and believe that they will sincerely help them secure a decent job or career in areas such as modelling, acting, etc. Most girls have no idea they are being trafficked until they reach the brothel where they are sold to a pimp or madam and forced to provide sexual services to 10-15 men per day. Those who refuse to succumb to the demands of prostitution are beaten, raped and tortured to the point where they have no choice but to surrender.

Sex trafficking not only results in a severe violation of human rights but also causes adverse physical, psychological and moral consequences for the victims. All hopes and dreams of a better life are shattered and over time the girls become penniless, mentally broken and affected with serious or life-threatening illnesses such as HIV/AIDS. The journey of sex trafficking destroys the body, mind and soul of a victim, and fundamentally takes away her capacity to trust herself or anyone around her. The damage done is deep rooted and often irreversible, as the sense of rejection, betrayal and numbness that a trafficked women or girl goes through makes her lose faith in humanity. Skewed identity, poor self-worth and learnt helplessness also make her believe there is no hope for her in the outside world and her destiny is to sell her body.

Today, sex trafficking in women and children is one of the fastest growing areas of national and international criminal activity. It is a multi-billion dollar industry, and has created complex criminal networks - at times, with the patronage of those in power. Lack of suitable laws and law enforcement machinery add to the problem.