Nicholas Kristof, that tireless New York Times journalist is in India these days giving us a unique outsider’s perspective of problems plaguing the country. This week he visited the brothels of Calcutta and tells us the horrific story of Geeta Ghosh.

Geeta grew up in a village in rural India and attended only two months of school; like many of the girls who are trafficked, she is illiterate. Her own family abused her, but at age 11 she found refuge with her best friend’s aunt.

For a year, “Auntie” looked after Geeta with a warmth that she had never found at home. Then one day when Geeta was 12 – but still physically a little girl, well short of puberty – the aunt took her to a beauty parlor. “You look a bit ugly, so why not try to look prettier?” Auntie suggested.

Then the aunt locked her in a soundproof room in a brothel with an Arab man who bought her virginity. “I was very terrified to see this huge man in front of me,” Geeta remembers, adding, “I cried a lot and fell to his feet, pleading.”

“He pulled off my dress, and the rapes went on for a month like that. He made me sleep naked beside him, and he drank a lot, and he hurt me so much.”

After this Geeta was peddled on open streets for 5 years until a Taxi driver who used to visit her regularly helped her escape and later married her.

I visited the one-room hovel where Geeta and her family now live in a Calcutta slum. The home is the size of a walk-in American closet, mostly taken up by a bed raised up on bricks. Three of the children sleep on the bed, and the parents and the youngest child sleep underneath it. The slum is squalid, and a nearby sewage canal sometimes floods their home – but Geeta is happy, because she is free.

And then this telling statistic

India alone may have half a million children in its brothels, more than any other country in the world.

We can try and put the blame on a lot of people for this situation. The people who push children into this trade, the people who are the clientale for prostitutes. But in my view, it is that police guy on the beat who turns the other way under the influence of bribe who is the main culprit. Yes, people will try and commit crimes, yes they will try and defeat the law but it is only when the people in authority turn the other way does the system break down and this is what has happened here.

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