India (MNN) — A new report shoves India into the spotlight, listing it as the world’s largest slaveholder.
Last week, an Australian-based charity released the Global Slavery Index. It’s a ranking of 162 countries based on three factors: prevalence of modern slavery by population, child marriage and human trafficking, both in and out of a country.
Its estimate of 29.8 million modern-day slaves around the world is a bump up from ILO and U.S. estimates, which figured 20.9 million and 27 million, respectively.
At roughly 14 million people enslaved, India holds nearly half of the world’s slave population. West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh have the highest number of sex trafficking cases last year, according to data from India’s National Crimes Record Bureau (NCRB).
“It’s a big, big problem in Andhra Pradesh,” says Far Corners Missions’ Gary Bishop. “There’s large complexes of them (trafficked girls). My wife and I have been in one complex that is as large as 15,000 girls in one place.”
He says complexes are located “anywhere where the predators can find the traffic for the girls that they have enslaved.”
At 506, Andhra Pradesh had the third-most trafficking cases in 2012. Bishop points to Interstate 5 as a major contributing factor to the prevalence of sexual exploitation and human trafficking in east India. The highway runs north-to-south through the state.
“It makes possible two very prominent factors, and that is the transport of people, and also the itinerant drivers who are involved with women along the way,” notes Bishop.
He says Far Corners has been fighting to free them for 40 years. It all began when the ministry’s founder discovered “the cages of Bombay” during a sight-seeing tour in 1973.
In a Mumbai — also known as Bombay — slum, 15,000 girls were trapped in literal cages, selling their bodies for 8 to 80 rupees (approximately $0.16 to $1.60USD) a day. Each cage held between four and six girls.
“Young women behind bars, actually on display for those looking for prostitution,” Bishop describes.
That began Far Corners Missions’ Operation Rescue. Not only are young girls rescued from the sex trade, they’re taught about Christ and given new life skills training at Far Corners’ New Life Centers.
Bishop says the girls they care for emerge with wounds that are more than skin-deep.
“They’ve lived for several years up to, sometimes, several decades with the emotional scarring of having been enslaved and forced to do things that no human should have to engage in,” he explains.
“A big part of [the healing process] is introducing them to the unconditional love of Jesus, [whereas] the rest of the world has very conditional acceptance of them and most often will disregard them.”
Today, they’ve come across a new challenge: slaves infected with HIV/AIDS.
“That’s a stigma problem in India, kind of like having leprosy,” he explains. “They can’t even escape and go to some place and be cared for, because with that disease, they are often not welcomed into any part of any community.”
Far Corners stepping up as a voice for them, taking a portion of their leprosy hospital and converting it to hospice for former sex slaves with HIV/AIDS.
“We’re providing hospice care for them, of course introducing them to the love of Jesus, but also addressing their medical needs, their emotional needs,” says Bishop.
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Most importantly, pray. “Pray for them to just have that glimmer of hope that will allow them the courage to make that first step.”