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The beginning of the end of child sexual exploitation


The beginning of the end of child sexual exploitation

14 years after they were brought to safety, a group of survivors were recently reunited with IJM South Asia staff.

These brave young women, with the support of IJM and people like you, have helped enable remarkable transformation in an area once renowned for sex trafficking of children.

One of those young women is Poonam*. This is her story.

Poonam* was only 13 when she was trafficked by her uncle and cousin.

Taken from her home in Nepal across international borders, she found herself trapped in a notoriously violent red-light district in South Asia.

It’s hard to imagine a more horrendous situation – betrayed by your family, separated from everything you know and love, and forced to do whatever you’re told by dangerous people.

“They beat me up like an animal,” Poonam recalls darkly. “I was less than that to my traffickers.”

Instead of going to school and seeing her friends, Poonam was exploited by at least 15 men every day.

She remembers the overpowering smell of alcohol and open toilets. On rainy days, sewage came seeping into the rooms where she and other girls were trapped.

“My days were long, but the nights even longer. I barely got any sleep. I had to engage customers whenever I was asked to.”  

As days turned into weeks, Poonam felt all hope drain away. But hope wasn’t lost.

Safe at last

The local police, presented with evidence and photos of children being exploited, quickly launched an operation to bring them to safety.

The Superintendent of Police went into the brothel posing as a customer and, as soon as he found the girls, he closed the exit gates and arrested the perpetrators.” – IJM staff member

It’s not surprising, given everything she’d suffered, that Poonam didn’t know who to trust when the police arrived. At first, she thought she was being transported to another brothel.

But instead, the police arrested 19 suspects and shut down all the nearby hotels where children were being exploited.

Imagine Poonam’s relief when she realised her ordeal was finally over. She was safe. But recovery would be a different challenge of its own.

The long journey of healing

Poonam was brought to a shelter home, where she spent two years receiving support and care from IJM.

Adjusting to life in freedom wasn’t straightforward. Due to the appalling abuse she’d suffered, Poonam struggled to trust anyone or make new friends.

She felt deeply ashamed of what she’d been forced to do and at times found it impossible to picture a different life for herself.

Looking back now, Poonam is grateful for the patient care of the shelter home staff through it all. Poonam says, “I don’t think I would be where I am if it was not for them.”

By 2014, Poonam was ready to return to Nepal with the support of IJM and shelter home staff. And once she was home, Poonam was determined to fight for justice.

The end of child sexual exploitation in this area

As she grew stronger, Poonam bravely decided to support the legal case against her uncle and cousin. In a victory for justice, both were convicted and sentenced to five years in prison.

And in an even more significant milestone, a decade after Poonam was brought to safety, the powerful trafficker who oversaw her exploitation was convicted and given a strong sentence.

News of his conviction sent ripples through the red-light district, causing several other brothels where children were exploited to shut down permanently.

It was the beginning of the end of child sexual exploitation in this area. In IJM-supported cases alone, the local police arrested more than 600 suspects, and saw perpetrators sentenced to an average of nine to eleven years in prison.

Today, in this area, child sexual exploitation has all but gone. This is what’s possible when we stand against injustice together.

Poonam today

If you met Poonam today, you’d see a strong, independent and ambitious young woman.

Working for a well-known global food chain, her career has taken her to Jordan and Kuwait – but in the future she plans to return to her village in Nepal. She dreams of adopting a child.  

Poonam now fights for the rights of survivors: “I’m not afraid anymore. I want to keep fighting for other girls so that they will be safe. I will ensure no one gets trafficked ever again.” 

*Pseudonym. To protect survivors, we have obscured some images and included photos that do not depict actual victims where appropriate. Consent gathered for all images.

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You Can Help Send Rescue Today.

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You can make the most impact as a Freedom Partner today.

Your generous monthly support will help send rescue to vulnerable children and families at a moment’s notice, stand with them as they rebuild their lives in freedom and have perpetrators held accountable.


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