The Banchara are an impoverished tribal group that make up part of India’s lowest-caste system. But they’re known specifically for one thing: child prostitution.
I know. Your knee-jerk reaction after reading that was probably the same as mine. How can this be?
As appalling as it is, this practice is a 500-year-old tradition among the Banchara community. Customarily, the first daughter is groomed from a young age to enter the sex industry, typically when she reaches 12 years old. What started as a tradition, has now developed into a cultural norm; every Banchara girl falls victim to the pressures of joining the sex industry. It’s considered her duty to support the family. Some even build rooms outside of their homes where their daughters can work with clients.
These girls and young women are totally exploited, but abject poverty and social hierarchies lead them to believe there’s no other way to survive.
In their lifetimes, 50 percent of these women will contract HIV, and all of them will suffer physical, sexual, and emotional abuse. Tradition excludes them from marrying within the community, which means they will literally have to rely on prostitution to survive . . . a life sentence of trauma.
I spoke with a woman named Uma who was forced into the sex trade by her family when she was 14 years old. As the oldest girl with four brothers, she was seen as their financial security and a way to pay for the dowry for their wives, which can range from $5,000 to $20,000.
On average, Uma makes just $10 a day and will spend the rest of her life earning the money to pay these debts.
After 18 years in the industry, she’s also HIV-positive. She continues to work and risks infecting others, but without a husband or children to care for her, she sees no other choice. She has never had the luxury of dreaming of a better life.
Uma’s story was a dramatic contrast to that of Nilam’s, another young Banchara woman I met. Despite pressure from family and peers, Nilam’s parents vowed she wouldn’t enter the industry—an extremely rare decision among this community.
But the alternative was a difficult one. Nilam’s parents wouldn’t have a steady source of income like the rest of the Banchara families, and there was no guarantee they could pay for her schooling.
Then hope came in the form of sponsorship.
Through World Help’s partner program, the House of Palms, Nilam received an education and found safety from the pressures of the sex trade. In this loving environment, she also came to know Christ.
Today, this bright young woman is in nursing school and wants to return to her community to provide physical, mental, and spiritual healing to victims of the sex trade—many of her own peers.
She told us she feels like she escaped a “living hell” when she sees what her childhood friends are still going through today.
Nilam’s escape from the sex industry is an example for families that rely on their daughters for income. Slowly but surely, they’re awakening to the long-term implications of education over prostitution.
And this kind of investment—this paradigm shift—is absolutely critical to transforming Banchara communities from the inside out.
“Where there used to be only darkness, there is now light. There is hope. Children growing up in the Banchara had no chance at another life, but now their home is here. There’s a light.” – National Indian Partner
I urge you to consider taking action for the sake of these young girls and women.
You may be wondering . . . Where do I even start?
Start by impacting one life at a time with help and hope. Your gift of any amount today will allow us to do exactly that through immediate and preventative care. And by meeting physical needs, you also open doors for World Help to care for spiritual needs.