21 women in India’s sex trade just received a life-changing gift that could save them from a life of prostitution. These 21 women, many of whom had been forced into prostitution since childhood, were given a wedding.
A wedding may not seem like a completely life-changing gift to you or me, but for women in these rural villages in India, marriage can be an opportunity for freedom.
The women belong to two of the lowly or “untouchable” castes in India, where safety and status are often out of reach. In their villages, prostitution is the traditional trade for women. Girls are forced into the sex trade at a young age while their brothers often become their pimps. They are sold for sex along highways, or in brothels and bars in cities.
Marriage is rare and discouraged for these girls because they are not allowed to take clients once they are married. The women also face financial obstacles. Beyond the cost of the wedding itself, the community’s elders allow marriage only if a large dowry is paid to the village.
Women from two of these poor villages started petitioning their police and officials for permission to marry. According to The Exodus Road’s operatives, the women wanted to marry their boyfriends and leave the sex trade their families had forced them into. They were not only petitioning for the ability to marry; they were petitioning for escape from a life of sex slavery.
When the police looked into the women’s complaints, they found that 21 women in these two villages wanted to marry and leave prostitution. The police and officials agreed to marry the women and their partners in one group ceremony.
The women’s villages in rural India came together to make it possible for their group wedding. Individuals, police, and government officials collected money for the event, which cost the equivalent of about $12,000. Police asked The Exodus Road to contribute to the fund.
Freedom. Love. Dignity. What a gift to give.
The community banded together to pay for the ceremony, which nearly 500 people attended. This unexpected demonstration of support and generosity gives The Exodus Road’s investigators hope for the future. They were honored to not only help make the ceremony possible, but also to attend the celebration.
The Exodus Road works to empower local communities to understand and fight human trafficking. By employing nationals and building long-term relationships with local officials, we aim to not only rescue those who are currently enslaved, but also create sustainable freedom.
And on this day, as nearly two dozen brides looked toward a hopeful new future, we glimpsed that sustainable freedom. Tomorrow, we will return to searching the darkness. Today, we celebrate victory.
*Sudir is a representative name. Names of survivors and operatives are changed for their protection. Photos are from the actual celebration.