Mali’s skin was covered in tattoos.
When asked if getting the tattoos hurt, the young girl replied, “Not at all. Nothing can hurt me anymore.”
Like many young girls in Thailand, Mali, whose name we’ve changed for her privacy, is no stranger to sexual abuse. As a child, she was harassed and assaulted by her stepfather. As a young woman, she was engulfed by a culture that treated her as a cheap commodity — something to be bought and sold.
So, she did the only thing she knew to do … sell herself to the highest bidder.
In the slums of Thailand and in India’s Banchara community, girls like Mali are raised to believe that the family’s welfare rests entirely on their shoulders. Banchara girls must pay their brothers’ marriage dowries while young Thai women are expected to provide food for their impoverished relatives and care for their elderly parents.
Unfortunately, few of these girls receive the education or tools they need to accomplish these tasks. Instead, they are forced to take the only job they can find — just like Mali.
What causes cultural slavery?
Discussions about rape culture, sexual assault, and the abuse and entrapment of underaged children are finally in the spotlight. People are asking, “What are we doing as a society to continue these trends, and how can we stop it?”
Since 1993, estimates indicate that the number of sexual assaults in America has decreased. But in places like India and Thailand, this is not the case — women are still not valued by the communities that are supposed to love, support, and protect them.
The mentality that a woman’s worth is only in her body combined with the overwhelming challenges of poverty is what traps so many girls in cultural slavery.
Poverty is where the cycle of cultural slavery begins. It steals a young girl’s choices. It steals her future. When a girl goes uneducated, her career choices are limited. And in places where the sex industry has been so ingrained into the culture and normalized to the point where it’s seen as just another business, it seems like the obvious choice for a girl with no other options.
Certainly, no girl wants to enter the industry, but as our partner in Thailand often says, “Poverty is the pimp.”
“The thing that they do is sacrifice,” our partner said. “They sacrifice themselves for their family.” And once a girl is in the sex industry, there is often no way out. She is forever chained to a life that she doesn’t want.
So what is cultural slavery?
• A culture that dictates you’re only good for one thing — selling your body.
• No one to rescue you from harassment and assault.
• Traditions that leave you trapped in poverty.
• Depression, anxiety, and health problems that cause you to believe there’s no hope.
• A lack of education that robs you of a way to escape.
This is cultural slavery.
While women in the sex industry may not always be “trafficked” in the traditional sense, they have never had the opportunity to choose any other path. They are held in chains — chains that enforce the lie that they are worthless unless they can provide money, and the only way to accomplish this is by selling their bodies.
Mayra is just one of the victims of cultural slavery who is held captive by those chains.
Mayra: a certain future
The future for 7-year-old Mayra is fairly certain.
We’ve changed her name for her privacy because she is a part of the Banchara community in India, which has a generations-old tradition called nari mata. According to the tradition, the oldest daughter of the family shoulders the financial responsibility for the household. She is expected to begin selling her body for money when she turns 12 years old.
This is what happened to Mayra’s mother, and without some intervention, it will be Mayra’s fate, as well. But it’s not what her mother wants for her precious daughter.
Mayra’s mother knows the pain of this brutal tradition. The women in her community spend decades selling their bodies to pay for things such as their brothers’ dowries, which can take as long as 30 to 40 years.
They are forced to subject themselves to years of abuse from the men in their community. With that abuse often comes unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases, and more physical and mental trauma. Then, once a mother retires, she is forced to watch her daughter do the same thing.
It is a vicious cycle, but one that educational opportunities can help reverse — as they did for Min.
Min: once just a number
We’ve changed Min’s name to maintain her privacy, but her story is the perfect example of what happens to many young women in Thailand.
Like the girls in the Banchara community, young women in Thailand are expected to provide for their families. With few available jobs in the poor, rural areas, girls make their way to cities like Pattaya and Bangkok with the hope of finding work. But without an education or the right connections, most of them find themselves living on the streets with no money and no hope.
The red-light district seemed like the only option, and that is where Min ended up.
For years, girls like Min will work in the bars, sending what little money they make back home. What little self-esteem they had is lost when they are reduced to just a number, pinned onto their short skirt.
But that’s not all they are. Min is now the mother of a beautiful baby girl, and instead of raising her daughter in the same culture she grew up in, Min has options. Because of compassionate donors, Min and her little girl have found a new life at a Freedom Home, and the opportunities are endless.
What can you do to end cultural slavery?
Earlier, you learned about a young woman named Mali. Her life has been brutally changed by cultural slavery, and she carries scars on her body and her heart. This is the case for so many girls, but with your help, those wounds can begin to heal.
For just $50, you can help introduce a girl to freedom. Because of you, she will have access to essentials like a safe place to live, medical care, counseling, and educational opportunities that will help her find a fulfilling job outside of the sex industry.
She will be surrounded by a community of people who love her, giving her the support and encouragement she has never received. Most importantly, you will help introduce that girl to the love of Jesus — and that is where true freedom is found.
Today, you can help a girl find a life she never dreamed was possible, and you can help break the chains of cultural slavery.