One of my favorite liberal columnists is Nicholas Kristoff of the New York Times. We both grew up in Oregon at about the same time, but I think that the reason I most enjoy Kristoff is that he uses the powerful pulpit of the New York Times op-ed pages to focus on issues of great moral importance that otherwise get largely ignored by Americans
Today's column is no exception As he has done before, Kristoff has written a powerful and moving column about "human trafficking"--modern day slavery for both sex and labor. As I have written before, it is an outrage that there are millions of people (mostly young girls) sold into slavery, and yet we turn a blind eye.
Here are some highlights from today's column:
Anyone who thinks that the word “slavery” is hyperbole when used to describe human trafficking today should meet Meena Khatun. She not only endured the unbearable, but has also shown that a slave trader’s greed sometimes is no match for a mother’s love.
Human trafficking is the big emerging human rights issue for the 21st century, but it’s an awful term, a convoluted euphemism. As Meena’s story underscores, the real issue is slavery.
Meena was kidnapped from her village in north India by a trafficker and eventually locked up in a 13-girl brothel in the town of Katihar. When she was perhaps 11 or 12 — she remembers only that it was well before she had begun to menstruate — the slaver locked her in a room with a white-haired customer who had bought her virginity. She cried and fought, so the mother and two sons who owned the brothel taught Meena a lesson.
“They beat me mercilessly, with a belt, sticks and iron rods,” Meena recalled. Still, Meena resisted customers, despite fresh beatings and threats to cut her in pieces.
Finally, the brothel owners forced her to drink alcohol until she was drunk. When she passed out, they gave her to a customer.
When she woke up, Meena finally accepted her fate as a prostitute. “I thought, ‘Now I am ruined,’ ” she remembered, “so I gave in.”
Meena thus joined the ranks of some 10 million children prostituted around the world — more are in India than in any other country. The brothels of India are the slave plantations of the 21st century.
Every night, Meena was forced to have sex with 10 to 25 customers. Meena’s owners also wanted to breed her, as is common in Indian brothels. One purpose is to have boys to be laborers and girls to be prostitutes, and a second is to have hostages to force the mother to cooperate.
If you have a subscription to New York Times Select, read it all. Kristoff proceeds to tell the story of Meena's escape, her efforts to save her children, and the indifference of the authorities.
By the way, if you think this happens only in countries like India, read this Bob Herbert column about sex slavery in Queens. And if you live in Arizona, contact your legislator and ask them to support Senate Bill 1268, a bill that will increase the penalties for those who promote child prostitution--a bill that is having a very difficult time getting through the Arizona legislature.