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Friday, July 7, 2006

Ministers Attacked Who Help Keep Teens Out of Prostitution

By Jeremy Reynalds

RAJASTHAN , INDIA (ANS) — Some Christian ministers helping keep girls out of a life of prostitution in India were attacked by Hindu militants.

The alleged assault occurred against ministers affiliated with Salem Voice Ministries (SVM), where according to ministry director Pastor Paul Ciniraj his staff are engaged in an ongoing attempt to protect young people being forced, in some cases even by their parents, into a life of prostitution.

Ciniraj said his ministry workers are trying to educate and train these young women “for a Good News based new and holy life.” However, Ciniraj said in a ministry news release, his workers have been threatened and attacked (with alleged police support) in an attempt to discourage the effort.

India ’s Rajasthan, Ciniraj wrote, is one of the major Indian states promoting attacks against minorities, particularly Christians. Christians suffer series of attacks and assaults by hardliner Hindu groups alarmingly.

According to Ciniraj, hundreds of Dalit girls in the city of Bharatpur , a large number of them minors, work as prostitutes with the support of their families. The same practice also occurs in a number of other Indian cities.

According to SVM, the girls are usually aged between 12 and 15, though some are as young as 10. They reportedly stand at the roadside along with their fathers and brothers, who fix the “price” for them. Members of the girls families, Ciniraj wrote, are aware of the “brutal behavior” of the customers. Many of the girls also contract sexually transmitted diseases.

Speaking in the SVM news release, the brother of a teenage girl said, “The customers are mainly truck drivers here. The average ‘rate’ for one girl for half an hour is Rs.50. They take the girls to their trucks or thatched huts a few hundred meters away from the road.”

The violence doesn’t deter families of the young girls, Ciniraj reported the father of a teenaged girl who was sold some time ago in the national capital for Rs.150,000, said. “The better looking girls are sent to red light areas in Delhi , Mumbai, Kolkata and other cities. They earn good money there and send it back to us.”

These girls, SVM reported, belong to a Dalit community which is spread over dozens of villages in Bharatpur. This community was traditionally known for its singing and dancing skills, but gradually took up prostitution as its main occupation. It falls under the “ Scheduled Caste” category.

According to SVM, 58-year-old Bhagwan Das, a resident of Ghatoli, said, “What can we do? We have to send our daughters into this profession as there are no alternative means of livelihood. Despite reservation for the Scheduled Castes, no one from our community in this village has a government job.”

The most striking feature of Ghatoli and other surrounding villages such as Bansipaharpur, Khakarnagla and Ludhabai, SVM reported, is that there are usually no young women other than daughters-in-law in most of the houses.

“The reason is that traditionally daughters-in-law are not sent for prostitution though daughters are trained right from the age of seven to become prostitutes. As soon as girls cross 10 years of age, they are sent to women relatives in the red light areas of big cities,” explained 45-year-old Shyama, a resident of Ghatoli, to SVM.

“I also went to Delhi for prostitution, but was lucky enough to meet someone who proposed marriage to me. Today, I have a son and two daughters and I am happily married,” SVM reported Shyama said.

She added, “Girl children in Ghatoli and surrounding villages are sent to the cities to their sisters, aunts or mothers who are already in the flesh trade. They are continuously tutored right from the childhood so that they are mentally prepared to enter sex work.”

Fathers and brothers visit the girls at regular intervals in the cities to collect the earnings, SVM reported. Some families have even built multi-storeyed houses with the money earned.

If a child is born out of wedlock to a prostitute, SVM reported, families bring the baby back to the village. If the baby is a girl, then there are celebrations – for it means an additional “’earning member” for the family in another 10 or 12 years.

SVM reported that the Union Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment, Meira Kumar recently described Rajasthan as the “worst state” in the country for Dalit atrocities.

“Rajasthan, which is rich in culture and heritage, (is) extremely backward in social justice,” SVM stated she said.