In March 2014 a group of ten ladies – most with links to Girl Guiding and two members of Soroptimist International-spent ten days at the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts – WAGGGS- centre in Pune, India. While there, they had the opportunity to visit various Non Governmental Organisations- NGO’s-, working with at-risk women and children.
The group was invited to visit Kayakalpa an organisation based in the red light district of Pune, a city of eight million people. This charity was founded by Seema Waghmode a lady who for twenty years has worked tirelessly to improve the lives of the city prostitutes. There they learned that over ninety percent of the sex workers are trafficked from Nepal, Bengal and other parts of India. The girls are brought to the city believing that they are going to enter into well paid jobs. They are tricked into thinking they will be able to send money back home to their poor families, but in reality they are lined up like cattle and sold to pimps. The young women are told that they owe the brothel keepers thousands of rupees which they must work to repay, but with room rent, food and clothing bills the girls can never repay the money. They are held as virtual prisoners in the slums of the red light district.
The group met with prostitutes, visited a brothel and passed queues of men waiting for the services of other enslaved girls. Worst of all they met some of the trafficked sex workers’ children. The charity had rescued the youngsters from a life of destitution on the street; over forty children were living in two small rooms above the offices of the charity, across the street from the brothels. The group found this extremely upsetting and wondered what the future held for these children, especially the girls.
One afternoon, the children – ages ranging from eighteen months to twelve – were treated to an outing to the WAGGGS centre for lunch and games. The kids had a great time, but of course they had to be taken back to the red light district and returned to the two cramped upstairs rooms. The ladies found this one of the most difficult and depressing experiences of their lives as they were desperate to take the children to a place of safety but of course they couldn’t.
These young women and their innocent children represent just a small percentage of the world’s enslaved sex workers as they are to be found in every city and in every country in the world. Their stories are so typical of victims of human trafficking: poverty and lack of education leading to vulnerability which makes them easy prey to traffickers.
The group discovered that Seema did have plans to build a home for the children, on her husband’s farm ninety miles away but that she had no funds. As they knew they couldn’t commit to help Seema until they had found out more details of the project two of the group travelled with Seema to visit the site, to check the suitability of the location. They were impressed by what had been done already by Seema’s husband.
On return home to Scotland, the group made the decision that they couldn’t ignore the plight of these children so they decided that they would fundraise for ‘Seema’s Children’s Home’. Their aim was to rescue these children from a potential life of prostitution by the end of 2015.
After a very successful year of campaigning it was decided to formalise the fundraising activities by the formation of a charity : The Free To Live Trust.