Hiding amongst the shadows, apprehensive of the light and its potential repercussions, this is a glimpse of my life at the tender age of 11. I have come a long way since then, but my journey has not been easy.
In those years of captivity, my mind often wandered to the life that might have been mine if my freedom hadn't been stolen from me. What would my childhood have been like? What hobbies might have captured my heart? Could I have excelled in school and studies? What would I have aspired to become?
These thoughts would run through my mind, day after day, during those dark times. I would imagine myself transported back to my previous life as if nothing had happened. What if my life had not been disrupted?
Today, I invite you to witness my journey through the eyes of an innocent 11-year-old whose freedom and dignity were forcibly stripped away.
On a warm summer morning, the doorbell chimed, and a woman I had only seen in photographs stood before me - maybe my mother. Could it really be her? The one who'd left me as a baby now stood before me. Tension filled the room as she expressed her desire to take me and my brother. My life in the village had been good, but I longed for my mother’s love. My father told her she could take me if she wanted to but to leave my brother behind.
Excitement surged through me as I moved to the city to live with my mother and stepfather. Sadly, they immediately took me out of school and sent me to work as a housemaid. Yet, it didn't bother me; I was finally with my mother, and seeing her smile when I brought home my earnings made me happy.
Years flew by, and I turned 11. One day, I overheard my mother and stepfather whispering. Later, they asked me about a job opportunity in Mumbai. Without any hesitation, I accepted it, eager to earn their approval. As preparations for my journey began, my mother treated me to a special day out, complete with a movie and a teddy bear from a toy store to comfort me when I would miss her and my home.
I was taken to a strange, dingy place in Mumbai. I later found out that it was a brothel. Two days later, my virginity was sold to the highest bidder. I felt like one of the toys that I had picked up at the shop - I was sold for a price. I no longer had a say in what I wanted to do. I was nothing more than a plaything. I didn't want to grow up so quickly. I held on to my teddy so tight as they robbed my childhood. Surely, my mother couldn't have done this to me, could she?
Traffickers are manipulative and cruel and will use any and all forms of force, fraud, and coercion to lure young girls. About 70% of girls are trafficked by someone they know.
They often do so by picking on the vulnerabilities that a girl is going through - they may pose as a lover promising to give them happiness, an enabler who gets them hooked on drugs or alcohol, a role model whose life they want to emulate, a caregiver who gives them off to the highest bidder or simply a violent trafficker who abuses and intimidates young girls. Though there are different methods of recruiting young girls into sex trafficking, they all lead to a path of violence.
Disrupting the source of trafficking can cripple the supply of young girls into this ever-growing underground industry. By protecting urban and rural source areas (like the village that Shehnaz was trafficked from) that supply young girls into cities, we can maximize our ability to achieve an 80% reduction in child sex trafficking in our areas of operation.
Our Community Vigilance Groups operate in areas where children are most vulnerable to exploitation.
As a child, I loved playing hide and seek with my friends. I loved finding secret hiding spots where no one could find me. When I was held captive, I wished they would give me just a little more time to hide and count to 10 again. But I just struggled. They may have taken me from my home, but they can't make me their slave.
Each time someone entered the room where I was held captive, I gathered all my strength to resist. But, it only brought more violence. They gave me food, but I used to refuse it. Although, some days, hunger would get the better of me, and I would reluctantly eat. Before I knew it, as I ate the plate of food in front of me, I would start feeling drowsy. When I would regain consciousness, I found myself either restrained or pinned down by the madam or pimp while unfamiliar men took advantage of me, one after another, until I became numb. I was shattered, a fragmented soul. Hidden from the world, I asked myself daily, "Will anyone ever find me?"
While some trafficking occurs when a girl is permanently taken from her home, it also occurs while living under the same roof as her captors, sometimes her parents, guardians, or caregivers. Many victims are deceived and manipulated, lured by false promises and brighter futures, sometimes even by their own families. Social, economic, or parental pressures often create a sense of powerlessness among victims. They pray for a way out of this life while feeling trapped and failed by the families that were supposed to protect them.
Spending a prolonged period of time in captivity and facing physical, mental, and emotional torture is a traumatizing experience for young girls and women. Providing survivors of human trafficking with adequate support systems and opportunities to heal themselves is paramount to rebuild their lives and help protect other women from similar experiences.
Marici’s Aftercare Team develops personalized Individual Care Plans (ICPs) for every survivor, ensuring a curated plan for their successful rehabilitation and reintegration into society. This includes psychological counseling, which heals survivors from their trauma.
"Are you ready?" my friend would call out to me while I spent hours standing in front of my closet, choosing my outfit for the day. I had few clothes, but I always enjoyed dressing well. The process of dressing up relaxed me and made me happy. When I was trafficked, the question "Are you ready?" was not a question but more of a warning bell. Can one ever be ready to be assaulted by 15-20 men every single day? After a point, I simply got ready, wearing the skimpy outfit, cheap stilettos, and that horrific red lipstick. I was just 11 years old. Eventually, the tears stopped rolling down my mascara-laden eyes. This was my truth now. I wasn't ready. I was almost defeated.
Any estimations on the true scale of child sexual abuse cases worldwide are often inaccurate due to the underground nature of this industry. Girls are often coerced or lured into sex work and illegally taken across country borders, many of whom fail ever to return. Reports measure the global human trafficking industry to be valued at around $200 billion. It is the fastest-growing crime in the world.
The Asia-Pacific region alone has over 80% of the world’s child sex trafficking cases.
Disrupting criminal and trafficking networks in areas where women and young girls are vulnerable to exploitation is critical to ensure a safe environment. Our Intelligence Teams are experts with backgrounds in military affairs, narcotics, and counterterrorism and have been instrumental in saving thousands of children so far.
Since 2017, our teams managed to eliminate 500+ criminal networks, saving over 27,000 girls from being trafficked. Currently, Marici is in six of the worst child sex trafficking hotspots in Asia and is conducting analysis to expand into two more hotspots in APAC.
Our vision is to expand to the twenty-five worst-affected hotspots and drive an 80% reduction in them in the next 5 years. We are raising money to scale our holistic solution to hotspots across the globe.
As a child, I had a reputation in my family for being a deep sleeper. My grandma often laughed at how I'd toss and turn in bed all night, and she’d jokingly grumble about the challenge of waking me up.
When I was trafficked, I dreaded nighttime. As darkness got closer, my living nightmare would be replayed each night—one man after another, every hour, for 8 hours straight. When I closed my eyes, I couldn't sleep. I was anxious and scared of what would happen the next night or sometimes the next hour.
Dreams seemed like a luxury for the free. For me, just existing was a daily struggle. I wondered if this would ever stop. Will I sleep peacefully again? Will I ever dream again?
According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the percentage of children among trafficking victims has tripled in the past 15 years. There are 5.4 victims of modern slavery for every 1,000 people worldwide. However, given the hidden nature of this crime, it is predicted that the actual number of victims trafficked is far higher. Estimates suggest that only about 0.04% of survivors of human trafficking cases are identified, and fewer than 1% of all victims of child sex trafficking are rescued.
We build custom takedown strategies for each trafficking syndicate based on our intelligence. We arrest hundreds of criminals, shut down trafficking hubs, liberate survivors, and prosecute criminals.
My childhood's alternate path was stolen from me, yet no one can rob me of it today. Each day, I consciously choose to raise awareness for a cause that can be painful to hear about but can not be ignored. Denial won't erase its existence.
Let's unite in our efforts to combat this heinous crime and give freedom to countless other girls. No other girls should experience a painful journey like mine; instead, they deserve a life of beauty and freedom. Every child should only have a life filled with love, laughter, and innocence.