“I had to do something to raise awareness of this issue of trafficking, and it was to write a book.”
In 2011 I had very little awareness about the issue of trafficking. It wasn’t particularly prevalent in the media here, none of my friends talked about it, so in my mind it was something that happened in other places, something I didn’t need to bother myself about.
This detached and somewhat unfeeling attitude changed when I least expected it. I was playing with my baby daughter on our living room floor when a charity appeal came over the radio. It was for a charity called the Esther Benjamin’s Trust. The founder, Philip Holmes was talking about the work they were involved in with rescuing children from circuses in India.
Holmes spoke about how children as young as five years of age were “sold by their parents into circuses where they became prisoners, trapped in a world of unrelenting physical training, routine beatings, starvation and sexual abuse”.
As he spoke a shiver ran down my spine. My daughter is half Indian, her grandparents both from the Punjab region in the north of India. In different circumstances, in a twist of fate, she could have been one of those children. The problem of trafficking suddenly didn’t feel so far away.
Shocked by what I’d heard in that interview, I began to research the problem, specifically of trafficking into Indian circuses. Many of these children were trafficked from Nepal, girls there favoured for their fair skin. Desperately poor parents were enticed by traffickers offering their children a glamorous life in the circus, and a chance to earn some money. Quite often these children were sold for as little as £10 and were taken hundreds of miles from home to somewhere where they couldn’t speak the language and had no chance of escape. Many of them never set eyes on their families again.
I couldn’t get these stories out of my head, stories about girls like Kumari Lama, who was sold to the circus when she was only five years old. Kumari was beaten unconscious with a rope, and fell thirty foot during a trapeze act. She couldn’t walk for three months, but was then forced back into the ring. Or Deepa, who had to rise at 4am every morning for hours of training and beatings. “Early in the morning the trainer used to teach us how to walk the tightrope, ride the unicycle, and jump from moving vehicles. If relatives from home came to visit, they weren’t allowed to see us. They would not even allow us to send letters; if they found us trying to send them they would beat us.”
Many of these young girls suffered sexual abuse by men in the circus, had to work seven days a week and received little or no pay. After reading all these stories, I couldn’t ignore the problem any longer. I had to do something, so I began to write.
My novel, Elastic Girl came to me, based on the stories of many of these young girls. The main character, Muthu is sold into the circus at the age of eleven, and like many children who were trafficked into the circus she is excited about the prospects of a better life, and the opportunity to make something of herself. However her dreams soon turn into a nightmare when she is forced into a gruelling schedule of training and performances, and subjected to horrific abuse.
Through Muthu’s journey, Elastic Girl takes a stark look at the tragic realities of trafficking, but it is also a book about hope and about how individuals can overcome so much suffering. It makes us reflect on what we take for granted and it forces us to think about the subject of trafficking, rather than turning away from it.
Since writing Elastic Girl I’ve become so much more aware of trafficking on a global level and the fact that it doesn’t just happen in ‘other places’. Whilst it is more prevalent in economically deprived areas like Nepal and India, trafficking is also very much a growing problem here in the UK and Ireland. The National Crime Agency have reported that last year more than 5,000 potential victims of slavery were reported to UK authorities, and sadly the number of children thought to be victims has risen by 66% since 2016. This is only a fraction of the real problem, as many of the cases are never reported. It is our moral duty to try and combat this horrific problem in whatever way we can, though educating ourselves, supporting local charities such as Invisible Traffick, and petitioning for better public education and anti-trafficking legislation.
Since the release of my book I have had hundreds of people contacting me to say that Elastic Girl has shocked them and made them think about the issue of trafficking. ‘It will draw you out of your comfortable life and into a horrifying and cruel world, and is exactly what is required to create the change that is desperately needed’ (review from OnlineBookClub.org). I’m pleased that Elastic Girl is opening up the discussion on trafficking, and I hope that it will make people more compassionate and aware of the problem, both internationally and on a local level.
15% of profits from each book sold have been pledged towards the work of Child Rescue Nepal, a charity helping to rescue and rehabilitate victims of trafficking in Nepal. http://www.childrescuenepal.org
“Elastic Girl highlights the cruelties, indignities and injustice of child trafficking. An enlightening and gripping read.” Joanna Lumley.
Available now on Amazon.co.uk £7.99. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Elastic-Girl-Olivia-Rana-ebook/dp/B07777XP5Y