At 14 years of age, Rekha had barely stepped into puberty when she was cruelly thrust into commercial sex work. A wide-eyed Rekha had trusted a man she called ‘brother’, only to find herself sold off to a pimp at a Kamathipura brothel.
“It was like a prison from where there was no escape. The madam who bought me would send clients daily to rape me. I kept wondering why I had met with this fate,” she recounted, while speaking to DNA.
And yet, she is the luckier few of the over 20,000 girls who get trafficked and sold into the flesh trade. She managed to escape that world thanks to the effort of Bombay Teen Challenge (BTC), which has been rescuing trafficked women for over two decades.
As part of its 20th anniversary celebrations this year, BTC released a photo book ‘CAGE’, by Hazel Thompson on Sunday in the city.
The book retraces the journey of two girls, Rekha and Lata, from their villages to their Kamathipura nightmare.
“The project was both challenging and physically draining. I was battling typhoid and the gangsters hired by brothel owners at the same time,” Hazel told DNA, adding, “The more time I spent with the girls, the more emotionally involved I got. I still ask myself whether I was able to do justice to the cause.”
While the spotlight on HIV/AIDS has led to much focus on sex workers and their plight, intervention strategies largely focus on the health aspect.
“While funding plays an important role in deciding the agenda, there needs to be more focus on the prevention of trafficking and the effective rescue, relief and rehabilitation of victims,” said KK Devraj, executive director of Bombay Teen Challenge.
Devraj added, “If this intervention happens in time, it breaks the vicious cycle where the older victims later on become brothel keepers themselves and start looking for young recruits.”
According to Devraj, there is a need for intervention in villages across the country, from where most victims are brought, to contain and eradicate the problem.