They thought they'd found love. But Sayeda and Anjali, pseudonyms given to two teenage girls born into poverty and sold to the same Indian brothel, were fooled, as Yudhijit Bhattacharjee writes in an expose of child trafficking for National Geographic. Sayeda, an aspiring dancer from Khulna, Bangladesh, who by age 14 had already escaped an abusive marriage, and Anjali, a 16-year-old factory worker from West Bengal, India, with only a baby goat for company, had both fallen for boys who turned out to be traffickers. It's a profitable profession in this region, where poor young women are often left alone by working parents who struggle to support them. Traffickers might receive $650 per target—about "as much as many factory workers make in five months," Bhattacharjee writes. Each day, the girls were forced to have sex with 20 or more clients, who paid the girls' captors about $7 at most.
If the girls refused to participate, they were beaten savagely. Anjali showed Bhattacharjee a mark where the brothel operator had put out a cigarette on her lip. But Sayeda and Anjali were some of the lucky ones. They managed to escape following a police raid, though they later told Bhattacharjee that police officers were among their abusers. "Brothel owners and traffickers who exploit minors are often able to get away with their crimes not just because the police fail to enforce the law but also because India's judicial system leaves open many avenues of escape," Bhattacharjee writes, describing intimidation tactics, a backlog of legal cases, and the millions of rupees some defendants can spend on legal fees. For victims, escape doesn't necessarily mean freedom. Indeed, Sayeda died in the months after meeting Bhattacharjee as a result of what she might call pain-numbing. The story continues here. (Read more child trafficking stories.)