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A family business: four girls rescued from family based prostitution in one week

MUMBAI, INDIA – The hazy midday heat for those on the streets of Mumbai on Wednesday 5 April was particularly oppressive for the month of April. Despite the dusty and heavy air, a number of people in the central suburb of Chembur were alert and tense waiting for the day’s events to unfold.

For one young girl aged 21 years old, belonging to the Bedia community, this was a day for which she had been groomed for since birth, the day in which her virginity was to be sold to the highest bidder. Her mother arranged to bring her and her 15-year-old cousin, who had already been conditioned into commercial sexual exploitation, to meet a customer who had agreed to pay INR 90,000 for the 21-year old’s virginity. The transaction was arranged to take place in Chembur, and the girls would then be taken to a nearby lodge or hotel by the customer.

The Chembur Police, worked in collaboration with IJM to thwart the plan. The police kept a close eye on the events that were unfolding that day, and at the right time, they rescued the two girls.

The community, from where these two girls came from, can be found just outside the small village of Badnapura. Directly behind the shanty houses is a stretch of road known as Gwalior Bypass, a busy highway connecting Mumbai and New Delhi. The road not only provides a convenient way to transport goods, but it also offers an easy route to traffic young girls from villages into large cities.

Being concentrated in certain areas of India, Bedia communities survive on the family business: prostitution. When young girls reach puberty, they are immediately sent to live in a big city with a female relative – a sister, aunt or cousin – to live as prostitutes. A very minimal amount of time is spent in school; most of their time is spent learning the tricks of the trade. They learn how to play the part, how to act and how to dress. Singing and dancing come as important skills since many of them will be working in dance bars. Most of the men in Bedia communities do not have a livelihood to support their families. They simply rely on the girls they send off into prostitution.

Following the rescue of the two cousins on April 5, just a few days later Chembur Police and IJM heard about two more girls at risk, both minors, from the Bedia community. On 11 April, the Chembur Police Station, with assistance from IJM, conducted a rescue outside the Bombay Presidency Golf Club Main Gate. A 26-year-old female was arrested for bringing her younger sister and cousin to be solicited to customers for the purpose of prostitution.

All four girls from the two rescue operations have now been placed in short-term government-run shelter homes for crisis care and initial rehabilitation. Over the past 12 years, IJM has assisted the police in the rescue of 15 Bedia girls at risk of or already conditioned into commercial sexual exploitation. As in both of these cases, the accused is often a family member. The cultural and family ties to the profession of prostitution run deep and rehabilitation of rescued girls who come from a Bedia background is a long and difficult process.

“We are fighting against a cultural mindset. The idea is so engrained in these girls. A life of prostitution is what is expected of each young girl; it is all they have ever known,” explains Melissa Walavalkar, Director of Justice Solutions.

Nevertheless, rehabilitation is not impossible. IJM works vigorously to give these girls a chance to dream again and to help them build a brighter future. Additionally, IJM works with officials to convict the accused so as to send a clear message to potential offenders that this crime has serious consequences. As other rescued Bedia girls have successfully left the life of prostitution behind them, there is hope that the four girls rescued in April, will break free from their cultural ties and embrace a new way of life.