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What did you want to be when you grew up?

Originally posted on the InterAction blog, 6/30/11.

When I was a kid and adults asked me, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” my answers varied depending on my age: A princess. A marine biologist. A teacher. A writer.

No one ever answers that question with, “A prostitute.” No one asks to be a prostitute. So why are they the ones who are always arrested and persecuted?

I just saw a powerful documentary called “Daughters of the Brothel.” In 24 minutes, the viewer is taken through one of India’s oldest red light areas, the Chaturbhuj-sthan brothel in Bihar, and introduced to some of the women who live there. Some were trafficked there. Some were born to prostitutes and were raised with only one future ahead of them. Pimps and brothel owners use enforcers to keep them there, to protect their own income.

The documentary centers around a young woman named Naseema. When Naseema was a child, her parents divorced and moved away, leaving her behind. Naseema was adopted by a prostitute, who she calls Grandmother. Grandmother sent Naseema to school, where she never let anyone know where she was from, always making excuses to her friends why she could never invite them home with her. After finishing school, Naseema went back to the red light area where she grew up and to help other women make alternatives, too.

Women have begun learning other trades. They strive to keep new girls from being trafficked into their area. When a neighboring red light area was burned and the police only arrested the women instead of doing anything to stop the attack, Naseema and her group stood up for the victims.

None of the women living in Chaturbhuj-sthan asked to become prostitutes. All of them live with the fears of police raids, beatings, attacks and other injustices. And Naseema’s courage has inspired some of them to fight back and change their own futures, the futures of the women around them, and their children’s futures—giving those children a choice when someone asks them, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

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