Open letter to ourselves to stand-up for our forsaken children – Mallika Sherawat

Dear countrymen and women,

Today, I am writing this letter to you on behalf of all those children in India who have failed to have their voices heard, for once.

Majority of them will not be part of today’s Children’s Day celebrations held anywhere across our country’s schools. They may not even be aware of its existence, forget about its significance! They may not even know which day of the month or year it is. Well, the irony is that they are not even considered as children. My heart goes out to the 1.2 million girls held in many corners and cages of India’s brothels. If this is not shocking enough, it is shameful that all of them are way underage to even understand where they are and what they’ve landed up into.

Ask a five year old child ‘what do you want to become when you grow up’, you will mostly get ‘doctor’, ‘lawyer’ and perhaps a ‘teacher’ as their innocent answers. But with trafficking, abuse coupled with everyday torture, trafficked children as young as three years of age are forced into commercial sexual exploitation. As absurd as it sounds, it’s our dark reality. Every eight minutes a child goes missing in our country and a vast majority of them end up as victims of commercial sexual exploitation. India, our country, has the maximum number of underage sex workers in the world.

Child sex has become a billion-dollar industry that coexists alongside drug and human trafficking where children are traded as mere commodities. Our woes don’t end here. In India, there’s ambiguity even in defining what a child is! ‘Child’ and ‘minor’ are defined differently in different contexts. Irrespective of the prevalence of law that forbids child marriages, we have around 23 million child brides as law enforcement has proven so far to be inadequate. Steps such as the recent Supreme Court verdict calling marital sex with girls below 18 as rape, is a landmark judgement. But child rape and sexual abuse has become a moral epidemic. Recent conversations against child abuse are encouraging but a paradox exists as we still distinguish our concern between those abused at homes or schools with those who are sold off and daily raped in brothels? Why have we chosen to shun away from the reality of child prostitution? Aren’t all our children worthy of protection, regardless of their background, age or gender? Despite the magnitude of the epidemic not enough has been done to drive a mass change in society.

As we celebrate Children’s Day, it is important we understand and uphold all child rights. In a country with millions of its children in forced prostitution, it is painful to learn that just 55 cases had been convicted in a whole year in 2015. This impunity of the perpetrators is one of the main reasons why we are one of the fastest-growing regions for child trafficking in the world. This is also why I lend my voice and support to Free a Girl India which is dedicated to sensitising the masses about forced prostitution of young girls. One of the radical steps taken by Free a Girl includes the launch of the ‘School for Justice’ (SFJ). The School for Justice is a unique initiative that educates girls rescued from child prostitution to become lawyers and public prosecutors, with an aim to counteract injustice of impunity. This program will enable students of the SFJ to help others that have gone through a similar torturous past and serves as an important step in smashing the cycle of impunity. But, we need to build a stronger spine to stand-up against the societal evil of commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC).

Free a Girl India and SFJ has made a small beginning to an end we all envision where our children will be safer at places where they belong, instead of brothels. And to make this vision a reality, I call on all of you to join forces to counter this heinous crime against humanity and rise against the growing number of child trafficking cases and the impunity of the offenders.

Childhood is a period of innocence and they have every right to enjoy that without the fear of being slaved and abused. We, as their families, as institutions and as their countrymen have the responsibility to protect their rights and free them from the burdens of a dysfunctional society that we’ve built.

Mallika Sherawat,
Brand Ambassador, Free a Girl India