blockquote-icon*Ruhi was only 13 when her brother sold her off to the madam in Mumbai for Rs 50,000. She’s 25 now, still repaying the ‘debt’ she owes the madam. With three children to feed, life is difficult in the in the streets.
She was tested HIV positive a few days ago. But that changes nothing. There is work to do.

The Issue

The general perception of this issue of sex trafficking is so full of myths and pre-conceived notions that we decided to shed some light on it before going forward.

The Global Slavery Index 2013 defines slavery as the possession or control of people to deny freedom and exploit them for profit or sex, usually through violence, coercion or deception. The definition includes indentured servitude, forced marriage and the abduction of children to serve in wars.

Myth 1

“Slavery is not practised at a large scale today.”


The ancient practice of slavery continues to be rampant in many parts of the world. The only difference is that now it’s well concealed and therefore, forgotten by society. It’s shocking to know that there are more slaves today than ever before in history.

According to the Global Slavery Index of 2013, there are a staggering 29.8 million slaves in the world today with about half in India. Experts suggest that this number may be three to five times higher.

of the slaves in the
world today are victims
of sexual exploitation

women share Ruhi’s plight in india

women are
enslaved in
mumbai alone

Myth 2

“The system of sex trafficking is haphazard and chaotic.”


The sex trade has a degree of structure comparable to any corporate set-up. It comprises an extensive network of primary and secondary traffickers, middlemen, brothel owners and indirect profiteers with the victims dwelling at the bottom of this pyramid. In Mumbai , 1141 brothels have been identified in 25 geographical areas with 103 pick-up points all over the city.
Each brothel demonstrates a systematic hierarchy as follows:


He is the brothel owner. He supervises the revenues and profitability of the brothel.


The Gharwali manages the day-to-day operations of the brothel.


Lodgers are voluntary prostitutes that rent a room in the brothel to accept clients.


The Adhiyas have the choice to accept or reject clients and split half their earnings with the Malik.


These victims are coerced into servicing clients to pay off their debt. They are most profitable for the Malik.

is the profit made
by selling a girl into
slavery, making it a
highly lucrative business

a girl in india is
sold for a price
anywhere within
this range

This girl is a virgin. I should sell her for a higher price. Where do I find a girl with hazel eyes? Which ethnicity is popular this year?


These are merely regular business decisions for traffickers.

“I bring new children to my customers every day. I get INR 2000-3500 per child. I don’t feel bad…if I get such high profits selling something else, I will do that as well,”

35 year old trafficker

Myth 3

“Only women are sold for sex.”


According to CBI figures, every year about 1.2 million children are trafficked. According to the National Human Rights Commission, approximately 60 per cent of the trafficking victims are found to be between nine and thirteen years old. Children as young as nine years of age are purchased at auctions attended by Arab and Indian men. According to the same study, Mumbai along with Goa, is a favoured destination for paedophilic tourists from Europe and USA. Currently, India has 3 lakh brothels in 1100 identified red-light areas, housing nearly 1.2 million children in addition to commercial sex workers. If not rescued, these children will meet the same fate as their mothers.

Myth 4

“The problem can be solved easily by arresting the traffickers.”


Multiple individuals are involved in the trafficking of one girl, making it difficult to retrace the steps and convict the law-breakers within the legal framework of the country. Once the trafficker is arrested, the legal proceedings move at a glacial pace. Even if they result in a conviction, the punishment is not severe enough to deter the crime. In India, it is illegal to sell sex, but it is completely legal to buy sex. This further victimizes the victim of trafficking. Criminalizing the purchase of sex is the only way to further deter the crime.

Myth 5

“These women are in this line of work out of choice.”


The general assumption is that the women in the red light districts are in this trade out of choice. But the reality is far from it. Yes, there are women who ‘choose’ to work in the red light districts. But how does one make a choice when given only one option? With years of torture, oppression and psychological manipulation, traffickers establish control over the victims that goes beyond physical barriers.

We can grasp the complexity of their situation by learning what happens to victims once they are brought to the red light district.

Phase 1

A new girl (usually at a very young age) is sold to a brothel. Here, the traffickers subject her to a ‘break-in’ period. Some traffickers even have specialised ‘break-in’ houses where all the new girls are held in captivity. Here, the victim is abused and raped multiple times every day. The break-in period is important for the traffickers as it completely breaks the victim’s spirit and acclimatises them to sexual activity. Any resistance or attempts to escape are punished with extreme violence.

Phase 2

After going through the break-in period, the girl is told that the Malik bought her for a particular sum of money. This is the ‘debt’ that she is obligated to pay by ‘working’ for the brothel for an unknown period of time. This period is the most profitable for the Malik. The average price per sex act is $4 and on an average, the girl has sex about 11 times a day. The price for unprotected sex is higher, exposing the girl to sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies.

Phase 3

After the ‘debt’ is paid, the woman is ‘free’ to work in the streets. At a nominal price, she can rent a room in a brothel. By now, she has borne a few children, is dependent on drugs and alcohol and is quite possibly, HIV positive. The ruthless economic system forces her to borrow money from autocratic moneylenders. With exorbitant interest rates, she will probably spend all of her life paying the debts. With no education or employable skills, she knows no other way to make a living. She will keep submitting herself to this trade, till there is nothing left to give.

This is the woman who sells her body in the red light district. Seemingly, with her own consent.

Myth 6

“ These women are happy here.”


Those who have experienced the horrors of trafficking want nothing to do with the outside world. An estimated 67 per cent of the girls are bought and sold by someone they know, sometimes by their own family members. They do not trust anyone easily and reject those who try to extricate them from this situation. The idea of honour of women is deeply entrenched in Indian culture. Having ‘lost’ their honour, the women firmly believe that they have no place in society. They know that they will never be accepted by their family. With no sense of respect or worth for their own bodies, they are prepared to live and die in the red light districts. Moreover, this is the only life they know. Most women are forced to do this at such a young age that they do not fully comprehend their situation. The thought of leaving their ‘stable’ existence in the brothels is even scarier.