A 22-year-old victim has spoken of her devastating ordeal since returning home after she was kidnapped outside her home ten years ago and sold into India’s trafficking industry.
The girl, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was finally reunited with her mother last week after she had spent ten years dreaming of returning home.
Thanks to a girl she met by chance the victim was able to reach Delhi, and after she remembered the location of her home she was finally reunited with her mother and sisters after a decade.
She said: ‘I have lost my childhood. I was just 12 when I was kidnapped outside my home and the moment I saw my family after returning I realized how much I had missed out on. I am so happy to be home but I am still grieving for the life I have lost.’
She was playing outside her home in Seelampur, in Delhi, India’s capital city, when a lady started talking to her on July 2, 2006.
‘I clearly remember what I was wearing. I was dressed in a grey frock and pink flip-flops that day,’ she said. ‘I was walking towards my sister’s place when a lady got out of a white car and started talking to me. Before I could even do anything, another man stepped out of the car and dragged me holding a cloth over my face, and I fell unconscious.’
Her mother and father started looking for her when she never arrived at her sister’s house. Her 55-year-old mother said: ‘I immediately thought the worst and searched for her at hospitals, police stations and temples wondering if someone left her there to beg or something. I also posted posters with her photo at different places but that did not help either.’
Eventually the distraught mother and father reported her missing with the police and filed a First Information Report (FIR).
The victim remembers every step of her ordeal and recalls being sold to a farmer for Rs30,000 (£300).
‘When I finally woke up the first thing I remember is that I was locked inside a room with around 20 others including young girls and small children.
‘I panicked and screamed for help. Everyone was crying,’
‘The man who dragged me into the car slapped me and told me to be quiet. I begged to be sent back home. Then a man took me and said he was taking me home. I went on a train with him, believing I was going home but he took me to his farm and made me work.’
At just 12-years-old she was forced to work all day in the fields, load heavy sacks of grain onto her back and onto trucks, and then at night she was raped by numerous men.
She said: ‘I was repeatedly raped every night. So many men took turns to rape me and if I resisted they’d beat me. In the end some would rape me while holding a knife to my throat. I lived in a locked dark room and given only one meal a day.’
It became hard for her to remember any sense of time but she thinks after 12 months she was sold again to another man, and she was repeatedly sold approximately nine times over a period of three years where she was forced to work in the day and raped at night.
In 2009 when she was just 15-years-old she was forced to marry a 50-year-old truck driver in a village in Punjab, northern India. ‘I was still a child at 15 but I was forced to marry an alcoholic and a drug addict in Punjab,’ she said. ‘I had two children with him but he died in 2011. My in-laws then started to torture me.
‘They used to beat me and my brother-in-law and his friends raped me on several occasions.’
In the end my sister-in-law took my children to live with her without my permission and they chucked me out onto the streets.’
With no money she eventually lived on the streets.
‘I was lost. I was desperate to get home but I had no way of getting home. I got another job as a cleaner that came with a small room but the money wasn’t enough. I sometimes begged and sometimes I slept on the streets,’ she said. ‘When a man offered me work in Siliguri in West Bengal, I went. But I was sold again, to a dance bar. There I met a Delhi-based girl and I opened up to her. I told her my story and she said she’d help me get home.’
The girl helped the victim catch a train and accompanied her all the way from West Bengal to Delhi. On the eve of July 24, 2016, she finally managed to find her sister’s home and knocked on the door.
She said: ‘As I got on the train and throughout the journey to Delhi I kept looking back hoping there was nobody following me.
‘I remembered my sister’s place. I knocked on the door and when I recognized my sister I fell to my knees.’
But her eldest sister couldn’t recognize her and quizzed: ‘Who are you looking for?’
As soon as she realized it was her little sister she burst into tears.
She immediately took her to their mother and as soon as her mother spotted her she fainted.
‘She couldn’t believe I was alive. When I told her my story she was devastated.’
Her mother, who has worked in a grocery story since her husband died in 2008 aged 45-years-old, got the whole family together – all nine siblings – to celebrate her return.
She said: ‘After I got no help from the police I started believing my daughter was dead. I’ve died every day within. I cannot even imagine what she has gone through. Her body is full of torture marks and cigarette burns. As a mother, I cannot bear to hear anything like this about my child.
‘Since she has returned home she is not even eating properly. Those people have killed her appetite. I prepared her favourite dishes but she didn’t eat anything. All she is able to eat is plain rice because that’s all she’s used to.
‘I will commit my life to supporting her now till my last breath. Her life has been ruined. They have stolen ten years from her, her most precious years. She’ll never live the life I wanted for her now…. but I will try my best to give her what I can.’
Within a few days of her return the pair went straight to the police in Delhi.
Deputy Commissioner of Police Ajit Kumar Singla, in North East Delhi, said:
‘We have recorded the statement of the girl and we are now investigating her claims.’
The victim now wants justice and hopes to stop any other family suffering as they have.
She said: ‘Everyone used to say I was a naughty child but intelligent. I wanted to work in the government and build a good life for myself. I had good prospects but I have lost everything. And I have lost that motivation in life now. The people who kidnapped me should be hanged to death. My life is over.
‘These groups pick up so many girls and I do not want any other child to lose their childhood like me. I don’t want there to be other victims like me. I will fight for justice. I have nothing to lose now.’
She will also fight to get her children back who are now aged five and four-years-old.
She added: ‘I want my children back and I want them to live with me and my family. I cannot imagine the life they are living with that family at the moment. I haven’t seen them for two years now. I do not want them to suffer as I did. I hope the police will help me. They’re my future now.’
According to a 2015 report by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the number of child workers in India aged 5 to 17 was at 5.7 million, out of 168 million globally.
Tinku Khanna, Director of Apne Aap Women Worldwide, a charitable trust that works to empower girls and women and end sex trafficking, said:
‘Over 80pc of trafficked children are from Dalit communities, while 20% are from other classes.’
‘The maximum number of girls performing in singing and dance bars are trafficked from different parts of the country. Not only girls, even boys are trafficked for sexual exploitation. Trafficking of children is done primarily for two reasons, to use them as labour or sexual exploitation. But almost all children trafficked are used for sexual exploitation in some way or another.’