What if someone told you, “You are going to have a baby girl!” What would you do? Would you host a celebration, or would you be enraged so much so to nullify the existence of that child, killing it before it was born? Would this act be considered a murder? Well, that’s a whole other matter. In the eyes of the world, India stands as a diversified nation rich in color and culture, several people and communities proliferating throughout the land. Its music as if describing an ancient tale, its monuments as a testament to power and dominance.But there is a part of India that often goes unnoticed. A reality hidden in the interior of the largest cities, streets lined up by lurking women and underaged girls looking for ways to pay off debt, to find the next meal, or to support their addiction by being hired for the night. Having nothing but their soul and body as their only possession, they give themselves away. They invest their bodies and souls to be able to feed themselves. But do the roots of prostitution really lie in poverty, drug addiction and trafficking alone ? or is there another start point, perhaps a larger backdrop to the story. I was a female child born to my parents in December 1994, my parents had my sister 5 years before me. Needless to say that they anticipated a male child, so did my paternal family. My grandmother didn’t come to see me when I was born, they tell me. Maybe my parents had a mild disappointed too, but it was soon overcome by their love for me. I was precious to them, they lavished me with their endearment and I had a “perfect” childhood.I grew up cocooned in their care always feeling secure and confident. And I know now that I and my sister are the most important things in their life. But not all girl children have this privilege, this blessing of being treated like a gem, an apple of an eye. The patriarchal society that was widespread decades ago and is still deeply rooted in some regions of India frowns upon the birth of a female child. It’s not a cause for celebration but of despair. Its somehow considered the fault of the mother. The birth of the male child is however highly favored and equivalent to a festival. “Why?” you may ask. A son will bear the family name forward as well as their splendor in the society. Forbes ranked India 4th among the countries most dangerous for women, pertaining to dangers of female foeticide and infanticide. A girl in India who escapes this kind of death especially in the underprivileged families grows up as a liability to her parents. An enormous amount of money needs to be paid as a dowry to get her married. She cannot preserve the family line and cannot earn like a son can. For that reason, she is seen as the burden that just needs to be done away with. Therefore she faces abuse in all its forms from her family members, even parents just because she is a girl and has posed a “disadvantage” on the family. She is not wanted, she is not loved. Rather, in many cases, her body and soul is sold by her parents into the flesh trade sometimes in the name of “Devadasi” tradition meaning -Servants of God. Devadasis enjoyed an elevated social status in the past but now they are sex workers and child prostitutes constantly being degraded. She is cast off and her earnings support the family. In the developed parts of the world, instances of female infanticide may be rare, but here another monster exists behind the familiar faces, who look up with a smile and speak with gentleness. But their eyes burn with covetousness. They are the uncles, the brothers and very sadly the fathers and stepfathers who take advantage of the innocence and naivety of little children to feed their lusts. Many prostitutes who now seem to be “happy” with what they do, share the phases of their life when they faced sexual abuse and rape as a child. A large proportion of individuals involved in prostitution seem to have been subjected to abuse and mistreatment at a young age. Here is one such study titled: Associations between childhood maltreatment and sex work in a cohort of drug-using youth Why do you think these girls end up in prostitution? A former police officer and an assistant prosecutor Antoinette Welch stated: “These women are told their entire lives that the only value they have to themselves is when somebody else pays for their body.” So where does it all seem to begin? Though not all, for a relatively large proportion of women, the way to this bottomless pit of darkness begins at home when they are still young and innocent, unaware of the dealings of this world. The above study informs that not only sexual abuse but physical and emotional abuse and neglect at home forces them to believe that prostitution is their only worth. In India, the young girls are made to feel unwanted. For them, truly charity began at home when they were burdened with the responsibility of their household and with no education, this is what they resort to. The entrapment of a girl into the flesh trade does not always arise due to the dearth of basic necessities of life. It also arises from the hatred and sense of unwantedness towards a girl child that is embedded in the families and the society, giving them over to a life of incomprehensible horror. Thankfully, things are changing. But there are many who are still trapped, who have gone missing, who have been separated from their families. They go through years of their life feeling worthless and less than human. The dark void within their soul grows darker and deeper each passing day. They remain caged in boxes treated not as a human, but an object day and night by customers having their way with them. We need something more than regulation, criminalization, and verdict to halt this ancient profession and its victims. We need a change of heart. We need our morals to be redefined. No one can subject their fellow humans to this torture that drains the life out of them. We need to realize that this person inside the box is not just a body but a living soul, who is by now may be on the verge of death. She has a heart, mind, and emotions endowed by her creator. She deserves to be listened to and valued. She is worthy of love. She is unique and there none other like her. Pray that we understand this so that she may not be stripped anymore of her soul. Picture courtesy: Google images, Adyashree’s blog.