India (MNN) — In the central Indian community of Madhya Pradesh, girls are being sold into sexual slavery – and their families are doing little to stop it.
Gary Edmonds of Food for the Hungry says parents are making the impossible decision to prostitute their own children in order to put food on the table. And it’s not okay. So Food for the Hungry is partnering with Youth With A Mission (YWAM) to bring about change.
“You’ve got a group of people there, the Banchada people,” shares Edmonds. “They’re of the lowest caste in a Hindu culture, and for more than 500 years now, one of the ways those people have provided for themselves is they’ve taken their young daughters — often the eldest daughter when she reaches the age of 11, 12, 13-years of age — and they literally sell her into prostitution.
“They’re basically saying if their young daughter can begin to sell herself to the local traders, the local craftsmen, the local people who are tourists in that area, they will have a livelihood.”
WHAT’S AT STAKE
Edmonds’ voice shakes when he considers what’s at stake. “I have two daughters. I have three granddaughters, and I think about this kind of a situation. We would go, ‘Horror of horrors – that’s not okay for a society to set itself up where they’re selling their daughters into prostitution.’”
That same passion is felt throughout the Food for the Hungry organization, and it’s what prompted their partnership with Youth With A Mission India. “With those people, we’ve helped set up a school,” explains Edmonds. “It’s called the House of Palms. And this school becomes a place where these young girls can be brought in, they can be trained, they can be educated, they can be fed on a regular basis.”
The girls are provided safe housing and learn alternative job skills, so parents are no longer forced to sell them into prostitution.
Food for the Hungry has another reason for their involvement in the House of Palms. “It’s estimated that more than 50 percent of the women right now are HIV positive, and so that just gets passed on from generation to generation, literally obliterating whole households, entire generations of young people. So we believe this is God’s heart to rescue these kind of girls, to create a new kind of an environment, a new kind of a culture, and thus as well, raise the dignity of women in that place.”
Edmonds continues, “We believe this is what God desires to do, so with that kind of a partnership, there’s a place of care, ongoing education, there is training in vocations and trades, helping these young girls and these families to develop trades in such a way that they can provide for themselves without there being prostitution.
“And at the same time, there’s ongoing work and activity with the family units, of us saying to them, ‘We’re going to train you in agricultural skills, we’re going to train you in health, sanitation, and hygiene. We’re going to train you in other kind of trades to set up a business or economy.’”
WHAT REAL RESCUE MEANS
Stories of rescue often entail late-night raids on brothels and returning victims to their families. But Edmonds believes true rescue must focus on restoration, and that’s what is happening at House of Palms.
“It gives them an alternative direction, it gives them training. It helps them to recognize their dignity, their worth, their value, and to develop the skills that will allow them to create an alternative pathway to their life.”
Edmonds says rescue must also address the families. “We have learned as well when people are caught in impoverished situations, they’re actually very creative and innovative in trying to figure out how to provide for themselves, and so we have to work with whole family units to give them a new direction, a new pathway to actually provide the means and the livelihood for sustaining their lives.”
“GOD IS A GRACIOUS GOD”
Food for the Hungry works alongside YWAM to provide education and vocational training. Edmonds credits the indigenous staff with paving the way for the Gospel to be lived out in the lives of all who serve and all who benefit from the work being done at House of Palms.
“They’re teaching them how to read the Bible, they’re teaching them God’s perspective on life, they’re showing them in very practical ways what grace looks like.”
He shares a letter written by a young girl who was sold into slavery by her parents. “She said, ‘Now I’m at the House of Palms, I go to school daily, but by God’s grace, I feel much better. I’ve learned that God is a gracious God. I’ve had the opportunity now to know God and experience His love in very practical ways and I understand in the fullest sense that God is my Healer. I believe God will fulfill my desires. Please pray for me, my studies, my family, and my health.'”
Edmonds asks for prayer for those working at House of Palms. “The thing I hope you’d hear is this is a tragedy, it’s not okay, that God has opened up doors right now and we need you to pray that the doors would continue to stay open, that the people who are working there, the Indian partners with whom we have relationship right now, that they would be protected, they would be provided for, they would be allowed to continue to express the Gospel in ways only Indians can do.”
He also says financial support is welcomed as Food for the Hungry works to build a desperately needed second home. The first home is at capacity, and young women are now being turned away — and it grieves the heart of Edmonds and his team.
“We need support at this level. We’re sponsoring these young girls to get them out of the sex trade, out of prostitution. We’re actually building and opening a second home, and we want a third home to be opened, so people can literally can give to that. Go to fh.org and you can find a way to actually contribute to help us rescue these young girls and begin to change the trajectory of life for whole communities, whole families.”
Want to learn even more about the House of Palms? Watch this special video!