When I was little I wanted to be a veterinarian … in space.
I heard a story about a monkey that went to space, and the only thing my young mind could think about was whether or not those poor monkeys had adequate medical care.
As I grew up, my interests changed and became a bit more realistic. In middle school, I wanted to be a marine biologist or a singer on Broadway. In high school, I wanted to work in a church, like my dad, or bake pastries that looked like pieces of art, the way my mom did. In college, I made plans to live abroad and travel the world. And these days, I get to live the dream as a writer.
No matter what my interests were, my parents always allowed me to dream. They encouraged me to try different things, believing that one day I would find my path, my future. Every step of the way, I knew I had their support.
But dreaming is a luxury that many children living in poverty cannot afford.
When it comes to the future, girls who grow up in Thailand or India’s Banchara community don’t have much of a choice.
Piti certainly didn’t.
By the age of 15, Piti was already working in the bars with her older sister in Thailand’s red-light district. We’ve changed her name to protect her. She knew from an early age that it was her responsibility to help provide for the family — no matter the cost.
It’s tradition, a form of cultural slavery that has been killing the dreams of young girls for many years. And it is the reason why so many girls like Piti end up trapped in the sex industry.
Young Thai girls are sent from their poor, rural villages to cities like Bangkok and Pattaya. There, they must find a job and earn enough money to send home to their family. Without an education or the proper connections, many are left with a single choice — selling their bodies.
In the Banchara community of India, the oldest daughter in nearly every family knows she will be expected to become a sex worker as soon as she goes through puberty. It’s a centuries-old tradition known as nari mata — the eldest girl must give up her own dreams so she can pay off her brothers’ marriage dowries and allow them to live their happily ever after.
In both of these cultures, women are viewed as property — a means of financial gain and little else. Too often, the girls themselves begin to believe this lie.
Piti did. For her, there was no point in dreaming of anything else. There was no reason to think about college or imagine different majors. Unless someone intervenes, Piti will spend her life trapped in the sex industry. And she’s not alone.
In the slums of Thailand or the Banchara community of India, many girls have never even dreamed of freedom; but there’s something we can do to change that.
Galatians 5:1 says that it is “for freedom Christ has set us free.”
Our own freedom — and the freedom of people all around the world. It is our responsibility to leverage our freedom and our privilege on the behalf of those who are still bound in cultural slavery.
This past Sunday was the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery. It can be easy to forget that slavery still exists today. But Piti cannot forget — so we must choose to fight on behalf of girls like her.
Through organizations such as World Help, we can help break the chains of cultural slavery and help girls like Piti start to dream a new dream … a dream of freedom.
Emily Towns writes for World Help, a Christian humanitarian organization serving the physical and spiritual needs of people in impoverished communities around the world. To learn more work to free women from sexual slavery, click here.