Day One- Arrival: For the next 10 days, we (Gershon and Jasmin from the Advocacy Team) will be travelling through India, witnessing the impact of human trafficking throughout the country.
Joining with STOP THE TRAFFIK Australia's Carolyn Kitto we will be spending time in Tamil Nadu, the textile hub of India.
In Tamil Nadu a system known as the “Sumangali Scheme” sees young women trafficked and held in a form of bonded labour. Meeting with employers, union groups and survivors of the scheme, our team will have the opportunity to learn about what can be done to end labour abuse in the garment supply chain.
Day Two: Meet Ramesh, our guide here in Tamil Nadu. As a consultant who has worked for over 20 years in the region’s social compliance audits, Ramesh has a wealth of experience with the Sumangali Scheme.
We asked him about progress in the garment industry and he was excited to tell us that, in some areas, things are getting better. One of the biggest drivers of change has been advocates pressuring companies, who have responded by implementing better conditions for workers.
Unfortunately, this hasn’t yet impacted the fabric mills which are located deeper in the supply chain, away from the current focus of most companies. We need to keep calling on companies to trace deeper into their supply chains; to take responsibility for them from picking to production.
Day Three: Today we met with garment employers and workers, considering, more deeply, the issues faced by the apparel industry here in India. We discussed both the incredible opportunities and potential for horrible exploitation that the industry brings.
The women pictured personify those opportunities, but they are also representative of the challenges. There was joy in their voices when they told us that the income they earn has allowed them to support their families and build a better life. However, as homeworkers, they are employed in a part of the industry which is unregulated, insecure and potentially risky.
We know it's complex, but the possibility for this industry to be a positive driver for good is significant. With your help, we want to do everything we can to maximise this potential and to end worker exploitation.
Day Four: The image of this beautiful scene stands in stark contrast with the heartbreaking story of the woman we met today. Today, the incredibly brave Jessica* told us her story.
At the age of 12, poverty pushed Jessica to take a job in a mill.
We cried with her as she shared her story of how she had been exploited, abused and molested. Some of her friends, who had been enduring similar treatment, gave up and took their own lives.
Jessica worked at the mill for 5 years. She now suffers ongoing pulmonary issues and can no longer work.
Jessica told us she does not normally tell her painful account, but that she was compelled to share her story in the hope that, one day, no one else would have to suffer what she has gone through.
So that’s what we’re going to do. Share Jessica’s story, far and wide, until there’s change.
Day Five: Yesterday we shed tears as we listened to girls from the spinning mills share the horrible stories of their exploitation.
Today, we met Mary Flora, Nithya and some of the team from the first female trade union in Tamil Nadu, and began to laugh as hope flooded back in.
In an industry and a culture where woman are silenced, Mary Flora and Nithya head up a union of almost 3,000 woman and girls from the mills. Together, they have fought for their rights, demanded to be heard and advocated for change.
They coordinated a march that saw the Sumangali bonded labour scheme abolished in 43 mills. They radically transformed the living conditions in the hostels that young mill workers were living in. And they spearheaded an action that saw 72 children liberated from mills and returned to school.
It was an honour to hear their story. We look forward to standing beside these girls as they continue their fight for change.
Day Six: After hearing countless stories of exploitation and abuse of young girls in fabric mills, today we had the privilege of seeing workers laughing and learning.
With many of these girls still working in the mills, we were again confronted with details of unfair wages, forced overtime and the sexual abuse of children as young as 13. However, as part of a tailor training program and with the support of their community, these young women are working towards a life beyond the factory.
The tailor training not only provides skills, but also instils value and self-worth into the lives of women who have, too long, been denied their rights.
It was a joy to meet with these young women and hear their stories of hope for a brighter future.
Day Seven: We’d like to introduce you to Asha, Angelina and Jacob, the team leading EHA’s Injot project in Jharkhand.
As one of Baptist World Aid Australia’s partners, EHA works with poor and vulnerable communities where young girls are targeted by traffickers and enticed by the promise of income to help support their families. The reality, however, is that most girls are taken, abused and never paid.
EHA have been rescuing children and reuniting them with their families, supporting the victims of trafficking and working to ensure that the traffickers themselves are brought to justice. They are also investing in raising awareness in communities so that everyone can identify the processes of trafficking and kids are kept safe.
It’s been so inspiring to spend time with this team who have seen whole villages liberated from trafficking.
Day Eight: It’s hard to overstate the contrast between the idyllic beauty of the Jharkand countryside and the ugliness of Roopni’s story.
While staying with her grandmother, Roopni’s daughter was enticed by a relative to come and work in Delhi. She was promised the chance to see the city and earn an income, instead she was trafficked and forced to work tirelessly for two separate households.
Roopni fought hard to have her daughter returned, making a police report even when the trafficker threatened her daughter’s life in an attempt to dissuade her. Roopni’s daughter was eventually found by police and returned.
Facing imminent jail time, the traffickers offered Roopni money to drop the case against them. Her response was, “I don’t want that money. I want my daughter to go to school. The money from her having a good job, that’s the money I want!”
Roopni has worked with EHA to share her story – and, because of her strength, now no one from her village is trafficked!
Day Nine: Today, the final day before we begin the trek back to Australia, we met with the newly formed Stop the Traffik India (STT India) - a domestic coalition of organisations committed to tackling human trafficking.
Baptist World Aid Australia supported the coalition’s formation, so for us it was exciting to deepen our relationship, hear some of the plans they are pulling together and work out how Australia can continue to support them.
Having met some of the inspiring team we have moved from hoping and praying, to expecting that STT India will be a powerful force by which to amplify the work of its constituent organisations and the Indian public to end slavery in this nation.