Nicholas Kristof: Slavery in our time

This unlinkable article tells one of those oh-my-god stories, the kind where you really don’t want to believe it’s true. Could a woman really do this kind of thing to her own niece?

Slavery in Our Time
Published: January 22, 2006
Historians will look back in puzzlement at the way our 21st century world tolerates the slavery of more than a million children in brothels around the world.

India alone may have half a million children in its brothels, more than any other country in the world. Visit the brothel district in almost any city in India, and you can meet 14-year-old girls who have been kidnapped off the street, or drugged, or offered jobs as maids, and then sold into a world that they often escape only by dying of AIDS.

When I’ve written about “sex slavery” in the past, from Cambodia, I’ve sensed that readers assume the term is hyperbole. See if you still think so after hearing the story of Geeta Ghosh.

Geeta grew up in a village in rural India and attended only two months of school; like many of the girls who are trafficked, she is illiterate. Her own family abused her, but at age 11 she found refuge with her best friend’s aunt.

For a year, “Auntie” looked after Geeta with a warmth that she had never found at home. Then one day when Geeta was 12 – but still physically a little girl, well short of puberty – the aunt took her to a beauty parlor. “You look a bit ugly, so why not try to look prettier?” Auntie suggested.

Then the aunt locked her in a soundproof room in a brothel with an Arab man who bought her virginity. “I was very terrified to see this huge man in front of me,” Geeta remembers, adding, “I cried a lot and fell to his feet, pleading.”

“He pulled off my dress, and the rapes went on for a month like that. He made me sleep naked beside him, and he drank a lot, and he hurt me so much.”

After that, the brothel owner peddled Geeta daily for five years – and only after eight months as a prostitute did she mature enough to get her first period. The brothel owner kept her confined in the brothel for the first three years, beating her with sticks and threatening her with a knife to warn what would happen if Geeta tried to escape.

“There was a big drain in the house for sewage,” Geeta remembers. “The madam said, ‘If you ever try to run away, we’ll chop you up and throw the pieces down this drain.’ ”

After three years, Geeta was allowed on the street in front of the brothel. But although police officers sometimes walked by, she says that running to them would have been pointless – the madam paid them good bribes, so they would simply have returned her to the brothel.

One taxi driver regularly visited Geeta, and gradually they became close. “It may not have been love, but he was sympathetic,” she says. Finally, he helped her escape from the brothel, and now they are married and have four children.

In the five years in which Geeta was imprisoned in the brothel, she never was given any money. Every single rupee she earned went to her owner.

I visited the one-room hovel where Geeta and her family now live in a Calcutta slum. The home is the size of a walk-in American closet, mostly taken up by a bed raised up on bricks. Three of the children sleep on the bed, and the parents and the youngest child sleep underneath it. The slum is squalid, and a nearby sewage canal sometimes floods their home – but Geeta is happy, because she is free.

All around India and the world, girls are still locked up in brothels as Geeta was. Indeed, sex trafficking is one problem that appears to have become worse around the globe, as organized crime, increased mobility and the rise of markets have turned pubescent flesh into a tradable international commodity. Moreover, fear of AIDS has nurtured markets for virgins and younger children who customers think are less likely to have H.I.V.

The Lancet, the British medical journal, has estimated: “The number of prostituted children is thought to be increasing and could be as high as 10 million.”

Of course, not all can realistically be called “slaves.” There is a continuum of coercion among under-age prostitutes that runs all the way from older teenagers who choose prostitution to 10-year-olds who are kidnapped off the street and locked up in cages.

In my next column, I’ll talk about what can be done to help sex trafficking victims like Geeta. It’s time to emancipate them.

The Discussion: 35 Comments

Couldn’t help but think of those North Koreans exploited as sex slaves in this country who tried to escape probably the vilest regimes on earth. That is an especially twisted and sickening existence. I had dinner with a former student who remembered a few years ago two N. Koreans getting into her compound at the Albanian embassy while their mother beat off the guards before being taken away and sent back to China’s friend DPRK where no doubt she was tortured and then killed (and no doubt any family members). Think of those who take refuge here and are blackmailed into living their lives only as sex slaves.
“Many North Korean refugees who flee to China every year end up as sex slaves and China often sends them back for punishment”

January 21, 2006 @ 11:06 pm | Comment

I’ve actually heard some Chinese Communist pigs tell me that everything is fine in North Korea and that the rest of the world’s media just lie about North Korea because America wants to “oppose socialism”.

Communist pigs. They wouldn’t know what honesty is even if it bit them in the ass.

January 21, 2006 @ 11:30 pm | Comment

Oh, slightly off topic but related to my prior comment: I’ve also heard some Chinese Communist pigs say that the Berlin Wall was erected to control “traffic problems”

That’s why I keep calling the Communists “pigs”. They wallow so much in their own shitty lies that they have no conception of the difference between truth and lies.
They’re pigs. The Communist Party is a nest of lying pigs.

January 21, 2006 @ 11:33 pm | Comment

(knock on wood), now I’m half expecting one of our Communist Party apologists to chime in and say we shouldn’t impose our “culturally biased” morals on the Socialist Paradise of North Korea where everybody is very happy all day long under the correct leadership of Beloved Leader Kim, the Son of God.

January 21, 2006 @ 11:46 pm | Comment

Yeah. My girlfriend says that given my cultural background I blow up the problems. To me it’s hell on earth just like China 30 years ago, but the people living there don’t. It’s all they know. So Chinese back then enjoyed living like dogs, and the regime is happy for 900 million of them to continue like that without the right even to live on their own land. It’s still a shitty way to live.

January 22, 2006 @ 1:06 am | Comment

Ivan is a white trash.

January 22, 2006 @ 4:23 am | Comment

Oh my God, now I’m going to cry in my pillow all night!

January 22, 2006 @ 4:31 am | Comment

And “YellowMan” is a fartypants!
So there!

January 22, 2006 @ 4:32 am | Comment

Ivan, shall we meet? Have a beer?

We Chinese feel so good about ourself, we do not really mind how foreigner say about us.

January 22, 2006 @ 5:25 am | Comment

That’s why you can’t look at a Japanese man in the face without crying and screaming.

January 22, 2006 @ 7:07 am | Comment

This is precisely why the Peking Duck has gone down the shitter. An interesting topic completly derailed by A) rants against China/communistparty/Mao/Linecutters B) petty name calling, dumb hyperbole, general bufoonery and C) an abundance of trolls and dumb asses who keep feeding them.

January 22, 2006 @ 7:48 am | Comment

Hey guys, we Chinese are not like the North Koreans anymore. I know the problems that we have right here but I believe that they’re all going to change. Just have a little faith on us okay?

And I can understand why Yellowman had some hard feelings when you said that. I hate the communist party but still China is my motherland, and I’ll do all in my power to make it more liberal.

January 22, 2006 @ 7:52 am | Comment

Thanks for the intelligent and encouraging comment, Yue Shi. What troubles me is that I’ve read too many stories of smart, well-intentioned people like you who end up being thrown in jail. It really does happen if you are perceived as going too far. So keep up the good fight, and please be careful.

January 22, 2006 @ 8:03 am | Comment

So Jing, would you have me delete people’s comments? I know, this is a dreadful blog. It’s an embarrassment. Yet despite its shittiness, it got more than 4,000 hits today and 160 comments. Somebody’s reading it.

January 22, 2006 @ 8:14 am | Comment

Sorry, actual number is above 5,000. Click the site meter at the bottom of the page.

January 22, 2006 @ 8:20 am | Comment

Yes, Richard, since you ask, please delete them, and others on similar level.

Whatever your own personal feelings which brought you to present, this kind of crudeness is exactly what allows bullies to win.


January 22, 2006 @ 8:32 am | Comment


Today most Chinese people do support the communist party. Chinese communist party has a very high job approving rates.

This is truth, but most western people find it hard to believe.

Today, China is some how like Singapore in large scale.

January 22, 2006 @ 9:08 am | Comment

Thats exactly my point Richard. I’m just bemoaning the fact that the popularity of the blog has made it less than what it once was. Kind of like too many fingers ruining the pie or some such saying. I won’t ask that you start deleting comments as mormor requested, but perhaps having users register in order to comment would be in order. That way it keeps the riff raff away.

The problem with blogs that last some time is that original content tends to wither eventually and the same things get rehashed again and again. Eventually this culminates in less and less original content and more links. 9 out of 10 posts you recently put up have been news links with a few sentences to a paragraph in commentary. Understandable considering how long you’ve been blogging. However at this point what provides sustenance for a blog is commentary (the operative word here being intelligent) from readers that will flesh out what would otherwise be a simple copy&paste job for you. Unfortunately as I said, some people are ruining it. This article was originally about the sex trade in India, 18 comments later and take a guess what hasn’t been discussed yet.

January 22, 2006 @ 5:00 pm | Comment

Well, things aren’t changing because with my new job and Chinese lessons I simply don’t have time for much original content. The commenters you point to aren’t riff-raff; they’ve been here a long time. For better or worse, and for a lot of reasons, this blog has morphed into more of a forum where lots of divergent sides can express their opinions; sometimes I think my posts hardly matter any more — and at a time in my life when I can’t invest a lot of resources into this hobby, that’s not a totally bad thing. Meanwhile, I always appreciate your comments and hope you can skip through the riff-raff and find enough good stuff to make an occasional visit here worthwhile.

January 22, 2006 @ 5:15 pm | Comment

Today, China is some how like Singapore in large scale.

Bullshit. I lived in Singapore and Beijing. You have no idea what you are talking about. I never had to bribe an official in Singapore – in fact, that’s unheard of there. It is an everyday fact of life in the PRC.

About the CCP’s “high job approval ratings,” if they are so high, then they should be delighted to hold an election, no?

January 22, 2006 @ 6:00 pm | Comment


To be honest, I hate currption in China and all unfair thing due to GuanXi existence.

After been living in australia, what I learned is, western people have been making effort to achieve demacracy and liberism for hundreds years. Hundreds years of mind effort of their phylosophers, people. However, the seed of demarcarcy was grown in western soil. In China, there is no western soil. Chinese have to do what western did from scratch, to find a “chinese herb” to cure curruption and all social problems.

My family was one of those “anti-revolutionary”, shall I tell you the story? Grand father suicide, his daughters were kicked off from schools and all other decent opportunities, one couple was forced to divorce, etc.

However, I don’t hate CCP. Because I dont’ blame social problems on CCP, in fact the problems should be blamed on every single chinese people, because we failed to find out own theory to build a healthy society.

And I don’t believe western style democracy can give china any good. ROC government, which is today’s taiwan government already proved it. Before 1949, a poor country where people’s average age was 35, so-called 8 million chinese army were defeated under japan’s invasion like 8 million ducks, and poor economics even nails cannot be made in china. I feel lucky i was born in “new china”.

CCP is not evil who destroy human rights and bring social problems. What is the evil then? I believe the evil is “too low of nutrition of equality and human rights in chinese culture soil.” Before China realise it’s demarcarcy, the job of chinese is to get more nutrition in the soil. I mean get more equality, rights, rule of law in your mind and education. Then, there will be chinese version demacracy born, maybe chinese don’t even use this word demacracy then, and western have to invent another word to describe chinese system.

January 22, 2006 @ 6:17 pm | Comment

The CCP isn’t evil. Some members are, while some (maybe most) some are very decent and only want what is best for their country. Unfortunately, the very nature of its structure means it must repress and silence people – that’s what every one-party system has to do. Pity.

The CCP has done evil things, that is beyond dispute. So has my own president, though never on the scale of the CCP. The worst of it ended with Mao, but there’s plenty of room for improvement today. If you want examples, just ask.

Off to work.

January 22, 2006 @ 6:28 pm | Comment

In terms of repress,
I think Chinese sometimes repress their own people that’s true. But american gave their own people guns and let them team together to repress other people from other country. Sorry for the comment but I do have chance talk to people from other countries.

CCP did many evil things? Not to me. Primary school free for me, high school 15RMB for me, university 1500RMB for a year.

Without CCP, I will be living in a country that I won’t survive after 35, Japanese army shitting in machuria, while maybe your country’s F16 flying over tiananmen square. Maybe we understand freedom differently. Before 1949, when a ROC general TangShengZhi promised chinese that he can defend in Nanjing untill the last soldier but ran away himself, when an american soldier raped a chinese girl but court release him freely, that ROC government already lost people’s heart.

January 22, 2006 @ 11:51 pm | Comment

Yes Xin, we all know, Americans rape and kill, while the CCP sends people off to college and helps them with their necessities.

Meanwhile, it’s possible to have a very generous government that you all love that is not quite the way it appears on the surface. Read this post of mine for reference; you might find it educational.

January 23, 2006 @ 12:41 am | Comment

Thanks for the article Richard. I am also suprised that almost everyone here just chattered and bickered and otherwise turned a blind, bored eye to the story that you posted. No wonder sex slavery is such a global growth industry, given the consistent levels of indifference whenever these sorts of stories are posted. Did the pattern repeat itself here because most of your readers are men? Or something else? I really don’t get it. Those poor wretched girls…

January 23, 2006 @ 2:16 am | Comment

Hi Richard;

Right now China is working very hard to move to the Singapore model. Althrough there are many problems now, but we believe it will work.

Chinese people think, western styled democracy is not good for China. A Singapore styled authoritory is the most suitable model for China.

I think China should be run like a company. There is no way to lead a successful company with democracy.

1) People of China is like borad of director
2) Communist leader is like CEO, technical oriented, focus on business development. We need the best brain to run a business, we do not need demoncracy, since democracy means average. We need the best of the best.
3) The system is not one man one vote, but it is still faire, since even the poorest people has chance to be a leader, you can see most of Chinese commnunist leaders are from normaly background. Un-like India, prime minister is always from the same family .

January 23, 2006 @ 2:48 am | Comment

I am the first to acknowledg emany things are improving for people in China. It’s just the ongoing brutality against the disenfranchised that gets me so upset at times, as well as the constant effort to suppress free thought and free speech. These things are foundations of the CCP’s strategy to stay in power, so chances are I am always going to be at their throats.

January 23, 2006 @ 3:15 am | Comment

Don’t you think it is possible that, the problem of China is not at the communist party, but Chinese people and culture.

A new concept for you, people is the problem ! During 5000 years of Chinese history, there is no such thing called democracy. And it is Chinese communist party that has moved a backward nation forward, towards more open and free, and eventually democracy.

Some time we have to accept, people can be the problem, like in India. India has a democratic system, but the human rights record is even worse than China, what is the problem, it is Indian people, which is backwards, do not believe human being are born to be equal.

I think only a doctor like Chinese communist party has the power, to transfer a backwards nation into modernization.

The transition time can be brutal, but I see there is no other way to achieve it. After 50 years of democracy in India, there are still over 100 millions un-touchable, people are still warship cow, still prefer to have lighter skin …

January 23, 2006 @ 4:57 am | Comment


I find your comments hard to swallow, I must confess. Stating that “Chinese back then enjoyed living like dogs” is denying them the respectability they deserve and have earned simply by surviving the times. No living creature should ever, ever be blamed for being born where you happen to be born: it’s not much of a choice you have, right ? So why the dog comparison ? No one enjoys living like a dog, and if you do live like that, it is because you have been made to. One thing I know for sure: with what they have gone through, Chinese people’s survival instinct must be much better developped than ours.
Same goes for the “Communist pigs”, Ivan. I can’t help but think that behind every single member of the Party there is a story as to why he joined the CCP and most of these stories will not qualify for the “pig category”

January 23, 2006 @ 2:40 pm | Comment

Btw, most relevant comment I have read on this thread is the one from Jing:
“This article was originally about the sex trade in India, 18 comments later and take a guess what hasn’t been discussed yet.”
I make no exception to his/her rightful blame.

January 23, 2006 @ 2:43 pm | Comment

Ivan, last time I checked, 1/6 of the Chinese population are registered Communist Party members. And they include my uncle and my great-uncle. Are you saying that 1/6 of the people living in China are pigs, and the other 1/2 who support them are also pigs? So China is basically a land of pigs then!

January 23, 2006 @ 7:42 pm | Comment

1. Only around 5 percent of the PRC belong to the Communist Party

2. You can’t prove that half of the people support the Communist Party unless you allow them to say so in a free press and in free elections.

January 24, 2006 @ 2:28 am | Comment

“india has human rights record that is worse than china”


January 24, 2006 @ 8:19 am | Comment

“After 50 years of democracy in India, there are still over 100 millions un-touchable, people are still warship cow, still prefer to have lighter skin”

What did you expect? a per capita of $30K? Equality for all? No untouchability?

What Kristof says is absolutely true. India is too big, so the problems that we see today will still be there 100 years from now, just perhaps, hopefully, a lot lesser than what they are today.

But to say India hasn’t progressed is quite misinformed. 50 years ago, untouchability was prevalent everywhere, caste system was way too strong. Now, the young generation does not care so much, things are changing. But we are taking the slow route, the more permanent route. We’ve already had laws against widow burning, marital atrocities, child labour and sex trade. Its just hard to implement when the government is corrupt and when traditions are thousands of years old.

Things are changing and honestly, I’m happier to be Indian than Chinese.

Read Kristof’s line, ‘The slum is squalid, and a nearby sewage canal sometimes floods their home – but Geeta is happy, because she is free.’

Because she is free. I am free because I am an Indian. I can vote out my elected representative. I can start my own newspaper slurring the givernment, I can visit any damn website on the internet. I can sue, I can fight, I can live like I want. I can work anywhere in India or the world. I am me. And thats what defines freedom. Yes we have hundreds of millions of poor people, but they are free and because of that, they remain happy. They will be less poor soon, gradually and then there would be even more to celebrate.

January 30, 2006 @ 6:24 am | Comment

I have been in India last year and it’s like a joke to listen some Indian people talking about democracy to the world. Any non-indians when they speak india’s democracy they have to add a prefix “Messy”.

Under this kind of democracy, more children are under malnutrition, more women are illiterate, more crimes are commited, people die younger, people suffer more red-tape, more bureacracy, lower efficiency, much worse infrastructure.

I hear a story in India. One politician go to a rural area for the vote. He asserts,
“I can give you freedom”
villager, “I need a rotti”
“I can let your voice heard on newspapers”
“I can’t read”
“I can … …”
“Can you give me some food or not?!”

So my Indian friends, don’t talk anything about “Democracy” before your GDP per capita reach $3000 at least. Food is more important than democracy. People talk democracy is more important than food because they’ve already got enough food. Go to the poor people and you will see the truth.

China is doing the right thing now to improve people’s living conditions. China’s GDP grows 9.9% in 2005 and ranked 4th largest in the world and is almost 3 times of India’s GDP. And China is also improving in terms of democracy. By the time India becomes more developed, China will be much more democratic than what it is right now. But before that, anything about “democracy” coming out of an Indian’s mouth is like a joke.

January 31, 2006 @ 1:18 pm | Comment

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