Human trafficking happens in our very own yards. Many are trafficked within villages by their own families.
I asked myself many questions as I listened to the story of 18-year-old Rani*, a fragile young lady in her beautiful clean yellow outfit. I could not understand why there was so much sadness on her pale face until I heard her story.
Section II of The Combatting of Trafficking in Persons Act 2009 stipulates that “Any person who trafficks another person or allows another person to be trafficked shall commit an offence.” Very often in Mauritius when we talk about trafficking, we think about what is usually featured in films – women sold for sex work, or women looking for green pastures outside their own countries who are unwittingly sold into sexual slavery in their destination countries. Trafficking is happening in our own paradise island and in front of our own eyes, but it doesn’t always come in the form we are expecting.
Laws exist but do people know about them? Are laws being understood properly and being implemented? Do survivors know that laws are there to protect them? Are those responsible for the security and welfare of our children putting into practice what is said in the laws? Do teachers not detect when they see traumatised pupils? All of these questions whirled though my head as a listened.
Rani started her story by telling me that she was sold by her “nani” (grandmother). I could not quite get what she was telling me as the word “nani” itself is a term of respect and endearment for a grandmother. I was so stunned that I thought she meant that she was sold to another woman because of bad health. This is sometimes the custom in Mauritius. When a baby is too sick, the biological mother symbolically sells the baby for a few rupees to another person thinking that the baby will regain his/her health.
I had to ask the same questions a few times; this is the story she told to me…
I come from a broken home and after the separation, my mother married another man. I was a burden for both of them and was sent to my “nani.” My nani was very poor and we lived in a small house made of old sheets of corrugated iron.
We hardly had any food to eat. When I turned nine years old, my nani sold me to an old man. The first night it really hurt but I did not even know what that old man was doing to me. This torture went on for three long years on every single night. When the old man came to my nani’s house, my nani left the house and I was on my own with the old man. The next morning I would go to school as if all was normal, but I was suffering a lot inside.
One day I said to myself that this could not be normal and I had to tell somebody about what was happening to me. I walked to my neighbour’s house and told her that I could no longer live with my nani and asked her for shelter. She started questioning me and very slowly I told her the full story on how I was sold to a man and what this man was doing to me every night.
Without hesitating, she took me to the police where a full enquiry was done. The police called my nani. She did not deny that she sold me. She said that she was so poor she had no other means to survive and needed the money so that she could feed me. She was released on bail and I really do not know what happened to her or to the old man since.
The Police contacted the Child Development Unit and they started all procedures so that I could be placed in a shelter.
I am now 18 years old and I can say my life has changed completely since I have the joined the shelter. After my primary and secondary education, the shelter sent me for extra curricula activities. I have even followed courses in drama and dancing. I participate in all activities of the shelter, be it at the shelter itself or outside on special events, for example, International Women’s Day or International Family Day.
Although I know I was sold by my own nani, I have come to terms with myself and this due to the psychological and emotional support that I receive from the shelter. I am well surrounded in a convivial environment. I have found my happiness in the shelter. But like any young woman I have my own aspirations and would like to get a proper job and fly by my own wings.
*Not her real name.