Recently I saw SOLD, a movie based on human trafficking taking place in Nepal and India. Within the first thirty minutes of the movie I was cringing, holding my hands, shrinking into my chair. Naively, I begged the question how families could sell their innocent children to strangers, even if they are fed the lies of working for pay? I am a mother of two children, who are my heart and soul. Deep inside I feel that if we as a family were in desperate times, I would rather sell myself than my children, or I would escape with them, and if we die, we die together. Yes. So extreme. But I can’t fathom letting my children go. Not for any amount of money, no matter how dire times were. I wouldn’t be able to live not knowing where they were, what they were doing, and with who. Just writing this or thinking about it, churns my stomach inside out.
I feel bad to make such statements and appear as if I am passing judgment on these mothers and fathers, who are living in desperate conditions, not knowing what else to do but to sell their flesh and blood to this multi-billion dollar industry. Many are not even aware and might truly believe that their children will go off to earn money for the family. As I write this I have a more informed position, because human trafficking is not a problem concentrated in a certain area of the world, this is a world wide epidemic with mostly women and children being bought and sold not just far away but here in my backyard, Los Angeles, California.
A spokesperson from the organization CAST (Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking), came to speak after the movie to the audience and said slavery in Los Angeles is a growing industry, especially in labor. From massage parlors to nail salons, they are constantly getting cases about forced labor with no pay. According to the website Force 4 Compassion (www.f-4-c.org) “the global sex slavery market generates 32 billion dollars in profits,” putting the buying and selling of humans over the sale of drugs and arms. Apparently, we have surpassed drugs and weapons, because selling our own kind is much more lucrative. This is alarming, disturbing, and simply disgusting. I feel we as a global community have hit rock bottom, and all that can be done at this time is bring awareness to it. Contrary to popular belief, slavery didn’t die in America when we passed the Thirteenth Amendment in 1835, it only grew – just underground.
The protagonist in the movie, a young, innocent girl from a remote village in Nepal wanted to buy a tin roof for her mother to protect their home from monsoon rains. Her dream to help her family, and to provide a better life for her parents was what led her into the lion’s den. She was dazzled and fooled by the jewels of a woman who promised her a successful life in the big city of Calcutta. She would earn so much money she could buy her parents anything she wanted. The next day, the girl was sold and off she went. From there the story is grim. This is not unfamiliar however. One would think traffickers solely target the destitute and uneducated. However, here in this country it can be anyone from any background so long as the opportunity is there. The opportunity might be when someone is walking to the car alone from the gym, or coming out of class, the possibilities are endless.
My intention is to bring awareness to this serious issue. Sadly not every human has the compassion in their hearts due to their circumstances in life, and therefore resort to evil and committing heinous acts to validate their pain. I believe today, we live in that kind of world. There are a lot of people in pain. The pain of war, the pain of endless illness, the pain of broken families, the pain of drug use, sexual abuse, lack of opportunity, lack of education, lack of clean water, lack of clean air, being fed lies, people who are misguided by their faith because of lack of understanding or not knowing their purpose…
In my view, any one of this circumstances, or cocktail of two or three of these issues, mentally and emotionally scars people for life. Some can handle it better than others and can heal, while others dwell in the dark space and resort to living a dark life. Their pain numbs by seeing others in pain. This scares me so much, because I feel overwhelmed and don’t know how to heal them. All I can think of or suggest is prayer. The power of prayer, for something greater than us, an energy more powerful than us to sweep up all the corrupt and evil in this world and restore morals and values. The mother in movie did just that. She gave her little girl a mini statute to hold tight in her hands and pray whenever she needed her mother. The mother did the same, and prayed for her daughter’s return. Since I don’t want to give away the rest of the movie, let’s just say prayer was all they had, literally, to help get through the horrid life the girl was forced into.
Those of us who are fortunate and blessed might have all the necessities covered and will never have to feel the extreme pain that many of our brothers and sisters around the world are feeling. This issue is not easy to tackle, and it’s only growing day by day with approximately 3,287 are sold or kidnapped into slavery every day. The only way to take this on is to educate our children, and care for each other. That is the bottom line. We need to feel the suffering of one another, and we as a human community are losing that. Too much bad happens too often, it is hard to keep up. So many of us tune out, or if we are tuned in, we feel helpless. I am that person. I get so shell shocked followed by anger and then indifference by the terror I see in the world, I retrieve into my own world. If we all made the mistake of living like that, this world would surely crumble. I need to remember to continue to be proactive.
In the audience, I was pleased and excited to see one of my Muslim legal scholar heroes, Professor Khaled Abou El Fadl. He is a champion of the Moderate Muslim voice and professor of international human rights at the University of California Los Angeles. Seeing him there, and finally meeting him in person, ignited my passion to get back into the community, to bring awareness to important causes such as this. The “tuned out” mentality did nothing for me, just made me as numb as those in pain, making me no better than them, since I am causing harm to myself by not doing what my core requires of me to do: help make this world a better place, by whatever means and energy I have. So I write this post as a token of gratitude and action.
I am grateful for the good people of this movie, the Director, the Actors, and the Volunteers, who put time and money into this issue, to bring it to the mainstream audience, because had I not seen it on the big screen, I surely would not have seen it on my TV screen via the local news channels. If we don’t see it, or hear about it, we act/think/believe like it doesn’t exist. That in itself, is a big problem.
Valentina Khan received her Masters of Arts in Muslim Leadership Context at the Claremont School of Theology. She is also a law graduate and candidate for the California Bar Exam. Valentina is a co-founder of I Am Jerusalem, an interfaith organization which promotes friendship, understanding, and striving for the “greater purpose” by dedicating time to community service and social justice. She spends her time at UpLift:body, life, community where she is the owner and teacher of all things positive for the mind, body, and soul.