'I was hopeless and had no confidence. I now have confidence to fight against the wrong that I've seen in this world.' Roopa, India
Twenty-year-old Roopa* doesn’t know exactly how old she was when she was taken from her parents by an uncle. Maybe she was only 5 or 6 - and with hindsight it seems clear she was abducted. If her life were likened to the popular board game, its early years would have featured a lot more snakes than ladders.
What she does know is that she was sold to a woman in Mumbai, who kept her until she was 9. At this still-tender age, her life took another devastating twist: she was sold into prostitution. Three years later her earnings – relatively high given her young age and tragic ‘premium’ status in the sex industry – would have paid off her buying price.
Older prostitutes, trafficked into brothels, are expected to service up to 20 clients a day, for which they receive only about 15 rupees (approximately 12 pence). Their pimps and madams, of course, line their pockets far more generously. So do the many others in these human chains - chains that make up the big business that is people trafficking.
Roopa’s story took another turn when she was rescued in a police raid and taken to a Government home. But sadly this wasn’t a ladder up to a fairy-tale ending: the home was filled to three times its capacity, there was an extreme shortage of beds and washing facilities, and the staff were overwhelmed.
'Every day I cried' said Roopa. 'The staff would verbally abuse us. They would tell us we were bad and remind us of our past.'
Many young women in this situation find themselves unable to cope with the past, to hold down a job or to reintegrate into the community. And so inevitably some return to the only past and ‘family’ they know.
Happily, Roopa’s story has at last taken a more hopeful turn: she has received help from Tearfund’s partner organisation, Oasis, who run a safe house. This house serves to rehabilitate girls like Roopa: they get support over three years, during which time they are helped to become more and more independent.
'I was hopeless and had no confidence' she says. 'I now have confidence to fight against the wrong that I've seen in this world.'
Roopa is now a trainee hairdresser in a trendy salon - Mumbai’s equivalent of Toni & Guy. As well as this, she has two other big aims in her sights: to find her parents and to become a famous hairdresser with her own salon. But while Roopa’s story offers hope against the odds, the reality of poverty is that, for many like her, the twists and turns of life are still far more likely to offer snakes than ladders.
* 'Roopa's' name has been changed to protect her identity
Our work with children at risk
Millions of children worldwide grow up trapped in poverty, fear or despair, their lives stunted by abuse, war, HIV, homelessness or the loss of their parents.
But these children don’t need pity. They need physical and emotional security and the chance to fulfil their God-given potential.
Our Children at Risk programme works through local church partners and networks of Christians to bring Christ's love to the world's most marginalised children. We work to prevent the problems that cause children to suffer, as well as advocating both locally and nationally for children’s rights.
All our activities aim to involve children in the decisions that affect their lives, empowering them to make their own choices for the future.
Children at Risk reaches tens of thousands of children around the world through almost 350 churches and networks. But we can't do this without your support.