In Calcutta sisters in brothels
Not only a powerful return to the contemplative dimension, but also a renewed commitment to action: for the Indian women religious this is the meaning of the Year for Consecrated Life. With exactly this knowledge, in Calcutta at night four sisters of the Congregation of Mary Immaculate shed their customary habits and go to the city’s brothels where many girls are forced into prostitution or reduced to being the slaves of unscrupulous traffickers. The work of the religious has enabled them to save many women. This commitment to exploited and defenceless women, Sr Sharmi Souza explained, “is also a positive response to Pope Francis’ message for the next World Day of Peace which urges people to combat modern forms of enslavement”. In a single night, she continued, “we saved 37 girls, 10 of whom were minors”. The sisters offer support and assistance to the young women who subsequently provide the police with useful information to stop the traffickers. Not that it is always easy: sometimes policemen refuse to go to the brothels since they too are corrupted by the traffickers, and then the religious go above them, turning directly to their superiors. According to data of the Indian Government, in 2007 more than three million women were working in the sex market and 35.47 per cent of them were under 18. The NGO Human Rights Watch lists at least 20 million people in India in the category of prostitute, with the metropolis of Mumbai which alone contains more than 200,000 prostitutes, thereby winning the sad primacy of being the greatest centre of the sex industry in the whole of Asia.
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