Faith: Christian charity working to help the world’s real‘Cinderellas’

Children as young as five are being sold as domestic slaves
Children as young as five are being sold as domestic slaves

No Child Taken is Tearfund NI’s campaign to protect 50,000 vulnerable children from trafficking, disease and disaster. Tim Magowan reports on a fact-finding trip to Mumbai with local church leaders and an Ulster Rugby player

I’ve met Cinderella – but not the one from the story my young daughters love.

In my version, there’s no fairy godmother or prince charming, but she’s real.

Her parents died when she was five-years-old and she and her older sister were sold to another family as domestic slaves. The girls spent their childhood washing, cooking, cleaning and doing whatever it took to help their owners’ own eight children enjoy life.

For ‘Cinderella’ and her sister there was never any fun. Stepping out of line meant being locked in rooms and beaten with sticks against a background of loud music so the neighbours wouldn’t hear the screams.

Her real name is Indira, she lives in Mumbai and it was a family member - her uncle - who sold her.

At 14, Indira was re-sold – this time for abuse in the sex industry. She was made to dance for the pleasure of roomfuls of drunk men who’d then force themselves on her.

The details might change slightly, but Indira’s story is typical of the heart-breaking, living nightmare faced by over a million children every year.

From the statistics, we know that every 30 seconds, somewhere in the world, a child is sold. That’s two children exchanged for hard cash – in the time it’s taken you to read this.

I struggled to get my head round that until I realised the young woman telling me about her life was not a statistic. As Indira spoke, I couldn’t help but think of my own young daughters.

I heard many stories like hers on a visit to Mumbai with Mairisine Stanfield and Charles McMullan – both Presbyterian ministers in Bangor – and an Ulster Rugby professional, Paddy McAllister. Paddy grew up in a missionary family and like Mairisine and Charles and myself, was in India to learn more about modern slavery and how we can help bring it to an end.

The Bible makes it clear that Jesus cared about people and how they were treated.

He gives us the vision of world where children could thrive and flourish, and become the people they were intended to be, and as a Christian organisation, Tearfund NI is working to help make that a reality. We want to see No Child

Taken – that’s the name of our campaign to stop this cruel trade.

Indira’s story has a happier ending. Courageously, she’d escaped and found her way to a project run by one of Tearfund’s partner agencies in Mumbai. There, local Christians offered her love, support and safety. Her face lit up as she told us about being rescued and of finding the spiritual and emotional strength to deal with the horror of the past.

“I’m learning to forgive those who harmed me,’’ she said “it helps me find peace’’.

*Tim Magowan is NI director, Tearfund - an evangelical Christian relief and development agency working with a global network of local churches to help eradicate poverty.

To find out more about Tearfund NI’s campaign or book a speaker for your church or group, visit www.tearfund.org/ni or call the Belfast office at 028 9073 0060.