Human trafficking is a serious concern the world over, and its impact is particularly high in countries like Nepal and India. Women and children are some of the worst affected from this practice, with many ending up in the flesh trade. Every year, over one and a half lakh girls and women are trafficked from Nepal, a big percentage of who end up in brothels in Mumbai. To make matters worse, the average age of a sex worker has fallen from 14-16 years to 10-12 years in the past decade.
The female victims of human trafficking have heart-wrenching stories to tell. Neeta*, a young girl who wanted to join the Nepali Army, was sold for Rs 1.1 lakh when she was only 10 years old. Rosaline* was duped by her husband, who promised her a good future but ended up fleeing with her money. She sends money to her children who are now enrolled in a boarding school in Nepal, far away from her reality. Monica* moved from Kolkata’s ‘bazaar streets’ to Bombay’s, because even now, opportunities are supposed to be better here.
These women have been deceived by loved ones and have had their dreams and aspirations shattered by their families' greed for money. And these are just a few stories.
"Its easy to talk about feminism, advocate gender equality and protest against rapes, while we conveniently turn our backs to the most inhumane women's rights violation: Sex trafficking. It was heartbreaking to hear their stories; how they never made choices because they never had any. Something needed to be done, and Project Patched came to life," says Sumati Joshi, head of Social Media Management and Public relations.
Project Patched is an environmentally conscious social enterprise for the benefit of trafficked women trapped in red light areas, started by students of Team Enactus at Mumbai's Mukesh Patel School of Technology, Management and Engineering (MPSTME).
The Patched program is based on a 3E model: Education, Entrepreneurship and Empowerment. First, the women are trained in the subjects of tailoring, financial literacy, spoken English and computer skills. A fundamental understanding of these subjects makes them better prepared to face the world as most of them have not received any formal education.
In the entrepreneurship module, the women are taught how to make beautiful and intricate patchwork goods such as books, cushion covers, quilts, etc. which are then sold through social commerce. The funds generated are given to the women. This creates an alternate source of income and instills confidence in the woman as she is leveraging her skills and not her body.
In the empowerment module, the women are counseled and exposed to the latest technologies and encouraged to go out and face the world. Guest workshops are also conducted to establish a connect with the outside world. By making use of cloth that would have otherwise been discarded, the women create products that also have a positive bearing on the environment by reducing the carbon footprint.
There are currently nine women enrolled in the program with over 200 women taking part especially in the empowerment module. Through Project Patched, the students help women go beyond the shackles of their profession and empower them in a way that they are no longer a victim of their past.
Sakshi, one of the women who has benefited greatly from the initiative, has exited the trade that trapped her for 18 years and now proudly runs a tiffin service in her chawl.
The Enactus team is also distributing the subject materials in a 'Capsule School', so that other organisations can also take advantage of it. They had won a Gudville grant of Rs 20,000 earlier this year. This money is being used to scale their 3E model and help more women like Sakshi start their own ventures and successfully exit the red light area, and get a renewed chance at life.
"Working for Patched has been an eye opening experience for me. The things that we take for granted in our lives, are things that these women have to fight tooth and nail for. Through them, and I think I speak on behalf of my team, we get inspired day in and day out,"says Siddhant Mehta, Business Development and Marketing, Project Patched.