Last month, I visited a project in Mumbai where girls rescued from the sex trade are brought to heal, learn and grow. One girl I met was Padma, still just a teenager. Born into a very poor family, she tells me her parents were in a lot of debt.
Padma's mother felt she had no choice but to give her daughter away, to a woman she now refers to as her stepmother. She never saw her mother again.
‘I wouldn’t play with the other children’, Padma tells me, ‘I cried for days.’
At first Padma's stepmother had her doing chores around her house, but one day she was told to dress up. She was taken to a house where a man was waiting for her. When the man told Padma to take her clothes off, she asked why. He told her, ‘I have paid for you, you have to do what I want.’ When she refused, the man abused her.
‘They told me I had to work or they would kill me. I had to see ten customers a day, even on my period. When there were no customers my stepmother would starve and beat me, hanging me from the ceiling fan.’
After a police raid, Padma was thankfully rescued and brought here. Now, she is safe at the Tearfund girls home, getting counselling, training and hope for the future.
‘I want to do something with my life. I enjoy drawing and painting. I have done beautician training and I practice on the girls here. I want to find a good job and do well in life.’
What moved me about Padma was her lovely smile. I felt so encouraged to meet someone who has been through so much and can still smile like that.