Trapped by tradition
September 22nd, 2011
08:00 PM ET

Kapoor: We can beat sex trade tradition

Editor's note: In some Indian villages, girls are sent into prostitution by their families - a tradition that began as religious obligation but is now continued for money. In "Trapped by Tradition," which airs Saturday and Sunday on CNN International, (viewing times below) "Slumdog Millionaire" star Anil Kapoor shows how Indian charities are trying to stop the tradition. CNN has changed Priya and Meena's names.

By Anil Kapoor,  Special for CNN

Bharatpur District, India - Leaving home at 5 a.m. for a shoot is nothing unusual for me but this trip was definitely very different - a road trip from Delhi to a village close to Bharatpur in Rajasthan to talk with working and former prostitutes.

As a Plan India Patron and Goodwill Ambassador I visited this village two years ago. I was looking forward to this trip because I am an optimist and was keen to see the change that has taken place here.

India has traditionally been a patriarchal society and unfortunately the rate of female infanticides is quiet high. In this village, families rejoice on the birth of a girl child - but for the wrong reasons.

The reason behind celebrating a girl's birth in this area is a dark one. Some members of this community practice a caste-based sex trade - and have done so for generations.

The men knowingly send their own daughters and sisters into the sex trade.

Your questions and answers on sex slavery in India

I was anxious to see what milestones we had reached in trying to stop this tradition - this time visiting with CNN International's Freedom Project initiative to fight modern day slavery.

We received a warm, ceremonial welcome at the village and were greeted by a group of young girls singing. I was struck by the words as they sang: "Give our daughters respect too."

Being a father of two daughters, it got me thinking, if we don't empower our women, how would our families progress?

I had the opportunity to share my thoughts with the women of the community. I sat down with some who had been forced into the sex trade by their families. Some of them were rehabilitated with help from Plan India and Gram Niyojan Kendra, a partner charity working in the same field, while some were still working.

Their stories gradually came out. They told me of their misery, the horrid tales of being sold in their teenage years, of becoming bread winners for their families.

I must confess; the few hours spent with these women were really difficult. At times, I wouldn’t know how to react - console them, cry or get angry with a system as inhumane as this.

I would like to share the stories of two women. Meena was sent to Delhi when she was 12 and worked in a red light area for four years. She earned close to 1000 to 1500 rupees ($13 to $20) a day by entertaining 10-12 clients. While she worked in the brothel, one male member of the family stayed with her to ensure the money went back to the family.

With a sigh, Meena remembered the blissful day when she came back and was rehabilitated with Plan India's help. With a radiant spark in her eyes, she said: "I bought a buffalo with the help of Plan and GNK and now I sell milk and milk products in my village."

Meena has promised herself that her daughter will go to school and not suffer like she did.

Priya was also in the village that day. She's a sex worker in Delhi and sends money home to support her family. Her elder sister, in her late 40s, has left the trade because of her growing age.

It's very difficult to get women Priya's age, - she's in her mid-30s - who are already working as prostitutes, to quit because they get used to the income. That's why Plan India focuses on children, working to prevent them from entering the trade to start with.

Priya's daughter is going to school and wants to be an actress

Priya believes she has no choice. She says she must continue working as she has a large family to support. She has to feed her children and she's supporting her sister-in-law and her children too.

She says that things are changing for the younger girls, thanks to all the money women from her generation have earned for their families.

But she also appears torn at times, sometimes defending the prostitution, sometimes directing anger at her family.

She said: "When I told my elder brother to put his daughter into the trade, he broke all ties with me and moved out.

"I made the marriage of both of my brothers possible and even today I am taking care of my younger brother’s family because he passed away recently. No one has ever acknowledged the value of sacrifices made by me and my sister."

It was time for me to talk to the male members of the community. As always, most of them were initially in a denial mode but started to open up gradually.

They reassured me that in last four years with Plan India and GNK's efforts, a lot of the women have been pulled out of the sex trade and more families are now determined not to push their girls into it.

Also, a lot of the rehabilitated women are ensuring that the girls from their families don’t get thrown into the practice.

It's a small step, but one in the right direction. Changing the mindset of the people in the village is key.

Now that the women themselves are taking a stand against prostitution, I am hopeful, optimistic we can end this tradition.

"Trapped by Tradition" viewing times.
Saturday September 24:
2100 Hong Kong: 2000 London; 2100 CET; 2300 Abu Dhabi
Sunday September 25:
1900 Hong Kong, 1300 CET, 2100 New York/Miami, 2000 Mexico City
Tuesday September 27:
1730 Hong Kong – 1930 CET – 2130 Abu Dhabi

September 22nd, 2011
04:57 PM ET

What is your 'slavery footprint'?

According to estimates by policymakers, activists and scholars the number of modern day slaves ranges from about 10 million to 30 million people.

But how many of those slaves work for you? Now that is the unsettling question being posed by a new online tool and mobile app. It's called Slavery Footprint. It's the latest initiative from the anti-slavery Call + Response campaign in partnership with the U.S. State Department.

It allows consumers to measure to what extent they are complicit in the use of forced labor around the world. FULL POST

Topics: Solutions • Technology