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Franciscan missionary: rural despair supplies sexual exploitation

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New York (AsiaNews) – India’s poor rural areas are the main suppliers of the human trafficking structure, this according to Sister Annie Jesus Mary Louis, of the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of Mary (FMM).

The nun spoke at a seminar titled ‘Preventing the Trafficking of Rural Women and Girls: Integrating Inherent Dignity into a human Rights’, held at United Nations Headquarters Conference Room 1 on 13 March in New York City.

Here, Sr Annie said people must “stop pretending that these girls came out of a vacuum. Let us stop pretending that that there isn’t a clear and acknowledged supply chain of exploitation. These girls came from somewhere. And we know where.”

The Franciscan nun has worked for years with NGOs involved in the fight against human trafficking. Her efforts earned her the recognition of the Indian government as the ‘Best Social Worker in the State, 2016’.

“Sexual exploitation is big business,” she notes. “It is governed by exactly the same principles as any commercial activity: supply and demand. You have a product. Someone buys, someone sells. In this case, the product is sexual access to another human being.”

If trafficking in young women exists “it’s because many men here – young, middle-aged and elderly – want their services and are prepared to pay for their own pleasure . . . the true solution is the conversion of hearts, cutting off the demand and drying up the market.”

Sr Annie works in rural Chhattisgarh, ​​central India, among tribal people, who are vulnerable to this kind of exploitation. The area, along with many other rural areas, is a source for “the sex-trade supply chain”.

Locals are poor, with no education or access to health care, miles away from the nearest city, without NGOs or public services.

“Traffickers know all of this. They know that the parents of children in my area are easily deceived, and sometimes so desperate that they willingly sell their own children.”

“These traffickers use age old means of deception to draw women and girls away from their homes. They often promise opportunities in cities. Sometimes they dress up their evil as benevolence”.

To illustrate her point, the Franciscan nun referred to the case of one of the girls under her care. Myra (not her real name) was sold to a phoney agency by relatives when she was only 13.

She was made to believe that the money she was earning was helping her family. In fact, her family never got a rupee. Instead, she was beaten, tortured and raped several times before she was rescued.

” Elements of her story are extreme,” Sr Annie said. “But some are commonplace: there is always greed, always vulnerability and always deception. But, and this is the crucial point of my talk, there is also always an origin – a location”.

“My cherished friends I am here to say simply that these women and girls did not wake up one day and decide to move to the city to enter prostitution. They were manipulated from their homes. The notion of free choice here is an illusion.”

For the nun, “not enough is being done to prevent them from being taken.” With respect to labour exploitation, “Companies are spending millions on this as we speak” to address the problem, but nothing is being done for sexual exploitation even though it is the same.

In view of the situation, the nun wants action against the supply chains of sexual exploitation saying that it should be treated with the same seriousness as other situations.

“Prevention work in areas like mine is almost non-existent. These families need loving accompaniment. They need opportunities. They need to feel like society cares about them. Yet, where I work, I am almost alone. And there are so many like me.”

Speaking to AsiaNews, Luke De Pulford, director of the Arise Foundation, which co-sponsored the seminar, praised the sisters involved in these projects, who were given “due prominence” because of their expertise and experience.

“It was Arise’s privilege to co-sponsor this event,” he said, “and our fervent hope is that the UN was listening attentively to what these true experts were saying.”

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