(photo author’s own- from left to right Anais Chartschenko, Stuart Perrin, Kristina Jones)
I listened in rapt attention as he described in heart breaking detail the conditions in which he had found children. They lived in cages and were sold to traffickers for small sums of money by their parents. His eyes got teary, and so did mine. I was lucky enough to attend one of the many speaking engagements Stuart Perrin is appearing at to support his novel, “Little Sisters”. It’s a page-turner thriller of a book, with scenes from posh New York City to the hinterlands of Nepal, and the brothels of Mumbai. Three sisters are trafficked by their family with three very different results.
Months after I read the book and saw Stuart speak, I was still thinking of the children and his dedication to saving them. How did this man set out on a path that ultimately saved the lives of approximately 10,000 Nepalese children? I decided to ask him.
How did you initially become aware of child sex trafficking?
Before 1992, I knew nothing about the horrors of sex trafficking. I had been to India at least ten times; I’d driven past Falkland Road in Bombay (where the brothels are), but I only thought to myself it was another oddity of Indian culture; and never asked myself the question: how did these girls get to the brothels?
I had been opening meditation centers across the world at the time and I supported myself by running an art gallery in Manhattan. Several of my students asked me to start a center in Kathmandu, Nepal. What a great idea, I thought. So much of my life and spiritual education came from Asia. It would be a wonderful opportunity to give something back.
A few months later, my colleague and meditation student, Kristina Jones moved to Kathmandu to open a center. Not long after she arrived, she telephoned me in New York to say that she loved Kathmandu and found it wonderfully exotic, but had no idea how to spend her time when she wasn’t teaching. I promised her that something would come up; after all she was in one of the poorest countries in the world.
Two days later she called me back. She had gone to a UNWO (United Nations Women’s Organization) meeting in Kathmandu about sex trafficking. She had met a Nepalese doctor, Aruna Uprety, who told her of children being abducted and trafficked into sexual slavery. Girls between the ages of ten and fourteen years were bought by sex traffickers in the hinterlands of Nepal and sold to brothels on Falkland Road in Mumbai, India. These children were tortured and raped and forced to have sex with twenty men a day. They remained in the brothels until they became so AIDS- ridden that they were discarded like used tissues.
I said to Kristina, “This is our work. We have to help these children!”
What did you do to help in Nepal?
From 1992-1994, as President of the Bahini Foundation, I oversaw much of its operations. I stayed in close touch with Kris Jones whether I was traveling or in New York City. I tried to raise awareness in the United States about the horrific child trafficking situation in Nepal and India. I made a number of trips to Kathmandu and worked with Kris and the children in the safe house. To my dismay, at the time, the world was deaf and dumb. No one really cared. Most people just looked at me in disbelief that something like this was going on. Meanwhile over 200,000 Nepalese children were living in bondage, and at least 10,000 a year were being trafficked to Indian brothels.
Working with Dr. Aruna Uprety and RHEST, we first identified kids through offering free medical camps in remote villages and took referrals by police or teachers of families who were known to have trafficked their kids. We tried to convince their parents to put them in the RHEST safe house instead of selling them to traffickers. That was (and still is) challenging, because the poverty is so devastating. The average income for people living in the hinterlands of Nepal at that time was about $15 to $20 a year. Traffickers paid as little as $50 (the average wage of a teacher or policeman at that time) for a girl- and more if she was a virgin. The family was told that she would go to Bombay, Calcutta, or Delhi to “work.” No one in the village knew what the work would be, but they believed that the girl would be able to send money home. In addition, the family would no longer have to worry about having to raise a dowry for the girl.
We weren’t always successful, but the girls we were able to save were enrolled in local schools where they would be safe. We also welcomed women with children who had escaped from brothels in Mumbai. We had to remain vigilant to keep the girls from the clutches of sex traffickers even after we brought them to RHEST’s safe house.
On one occasion, Kris pretended to be a medical professional and went into the Falkland Road brothels to document the appalling conditions the girls lived in. Had the brothel owners known what Kristina was really up to, most likely they would have killed her.
In 1996, Kristina became ill. The pollution in Kathmandu was so bad she had begun to develop lung issues. I asked her to return to the United States for treatment. Dr. Aruna Uprety who ran RHEST (Rural Health and Educational Trust of Nepal) incorporated Bahini under the auspices of RHEST. Bahini was the first organization of its kind started in Nepal. About a year and a half ago, Aruna telephoned Kristina and I, and told us, that because we started the Bahini Foundation it saved the lives of about 10,000 Nepalese children.
What was your inspiration for “Little Sisters”, the novel?
The Bahini Foundation produced a three-minute promotional video, “My Name Is Gita” to raise money, which is still being shown on VTV in Hong Kong as a public service announcement. Kristina is an accomplished singer, and she sang a song in the video about a girl named Gita. After seeing the video, I knew the story needed to be told in a big way. The very idea that 200,000 children were being raped, tortured and forced to live in sexual slavery, and almost nothing was being done about it, made me sit down and write “Little Sisters.” The world had to know that this was going on. At first, I wanted to make a Hollywood film. I wrote a script, but no movie studio would touch it. “It’s too dark,” they said. I even considered making a documentary, but decided that was too dangerous. No brothel would allow us to film what really goes on. If we tried to do that, we’d probably get killed. I wrote “Little Sisters” as a novel because fiction was the only way I could render the truth and make it palatable for people to read. “Little Sisters” is a multicultural family story and a love story. The underlying dramatic theme is the horror of children being sold into sexual slavery. It shows how these children are transformed from innocent kids into sex slaves.
What are you currently doing as an activist?
My book, “Little Sisters” has been instrumental in setting up anti-human trafficking events in many cities throughout the United States. The whole point is to create awareness- to make people realize that this isn’t just a Nepalese and Indian problem. This is going on in just about every city in the United States. There are over 200,000 children being trafficked today in America and it’s a 32 billion dollar international business. I’ve done panels with members of the FBI, with police detectives that work in anti-human trafficking squads, and with heads of NGO’s working in the field at NYU and The Ethical Culture Society of New York City. I was recently given the pulpit to speak about anti-human trafficking at the Atkinson Memorial Church in Oregon, City, OR. There are two events coming up in Carmel, CA and one in Monterey, CA the last week of January. I‘ve been given the pulpit to speak about anti-human trafficking at the West Hills Universalist Unitarian Church in Portland. I will also be speaking to the Lion’s Club in Eugene, OR. Both of these events are the third week of February. In March I have two panel events in at Westchester County, NY public libraries. There will be a member of the FBI on one, a chief of Police, executives from NGO’s and someone from the D.A.’s office. In early April there will be a similar event at another Westchester County public library. Sometime, around the third week of April, there will be an all-day anti-human trafficking event at the First Universalist Unitarian Church in downtown Portland, OR. Besides Kristina and myself, the list of tentative speakers may include members of the U. S. Congress.
How does the situation in Portland, OR and the USA compare with Asia?
According to the Portland Police, the situation in Portland is very similar to what I speak about in my book “Little Sisters.” In my book they are called traffickers and Gharwalli’s (Madams). In Portland they are called pimps. Children in Portland are kidnapped, seduced, bought, and stolen off the streets. They are raped, tortured, brainwashed and forced to sleep with twenty men a day. The situation in the United States is just as horrific as the situation I speak about in “Little Sisters.” Two hundred thousand girls are presently living as sex slaves in this country.
How can people contribute to this important work?
By becoming aware that sexual slavery is one of the most heinous crimes on earth today (a crime that’s equal to the holocaust); by letting their congressmen know about this crime and demanding that something get done; by volunteering time and money to authentic agencies that are working diligently to end this problem; by attending events, reading books, and educating themselves in regard to human trafficking; by being outraged; by saying to themselves that children are the future of our world and they can’t be living out their childhood as sexual slaves; by recognizing that slavery is a larger industry today than it was in 1840, etc. etc.
Men also need to be encouraged to get involved. They make up the largest percentage of customers in the sex trafficking marketplace. This is not just a women’s issue. This is a human issue. By bringing men and women together to protect our children, we create a stronger future for everyone living on this planet.
Stuart Perrin, an American spiritual master of Kundalini Yoga, is the author of many books including The Mystical Ferryboat, Leah, A Deeper Surrender: Notes on a Spiritual Life, Moving On: Finding Happiness in a Changed World, and Little Sisters. He writes at: http://www.stuartperrin.com/