This summer we look back at the big stories of the year around the world and closer to home. This story was part of our Not for Sale series in October. Millions of girls across Asia are being sold into prostitution, forced into child labour, and married against their will. Over two weeks the Herald and World Vision told their stories so you can make a difference.

Latika is in dire straits.

Her life, working as a prostitute in Kolkata, is already grim. She lives in a room she rents from a brothel owner and when we visit her in her home, I'm shocked at the size of it. I have seen bigger chicken coops.

It's a tiny space, with a wooden platform taking up most of the room. All of Latika's worldly possessions are stacked neatly beneath the platform that doubles as a bed for herself and daughter Riya, 14.

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It's also a place to entertain clients on the rare occasion she has them. Incredibly, this tiny room was also home to Latika's 19-year-old son for a couple of years before she sent him back to her home village to live with her brother and uncle. He hated the environment and hated what his mother did to survive. Now it's just Latika and Riya.

Latika works as a prostitute in Kolkata's red light district. She lives in the area with her teenage daughter but the pair want to move away. Photo / Mike Scott
Latika works as a prostitute in Kolkata's red light district. She lives in the area with her teenage daughter but the pair want to move away. Photo / Mike Scott

But things are desperate for the mother and daughter. Latika's old now, for a prostitute, and every day there are new girls on the streets. Younger, prettier girls who get first pick of the men. Right now, she's lucky if she gets three or four clients a week and given she earns about seven New Zealand dollars a trick, she's barely able to look after herself and her daughter.

Riya, through no fault of her own, is another complication. The men have already started showing an interest in her and so when Latika has a client, she has to rent a safe place for Riya to stay until the transaction is completed. There's another problem having her daughter living with her. There are strict laws around child prostitution in India and any brothel owner harbouring young girls faces crippling fines. Latika is under pressure from her landlord to find somewhere else to live or to send her daughter away.

Kerre McIvor stands above the Kolkata red light district which is Asia's largest brothel. Photo / Mike Scott
Kerre McIvor stands above the Kolkata red light district which is Asia's largest brothel. Photo / Mike Scott

Latika dreams of escaping the life. She would love to get away from working as a prostitute and living in a brothel. She desperately wants her daughter to be living in a safe environment and going to school but it's impossible. Latika has no skills, no family support and no money - that's how the single mother ended up as a prostitute in the first place.

She wants to set up a business but the $300 required to start up a small cafe would be like a Kiwi single parent trying to find $300,000. Her future as she sees it looks bleak. And it is.

Riya, however, has a plan. We meet her at the World Vision drop-in centre in the heart of the red-light district. The centre provides a safe learning environment for the children of the workers in the area. Little ones attend the morning session; the afternoon sessions are for teenagers like Riya where they can get a snack and help with their homework.

In Kolkata's red light district World Vision runs education services for the children of prostitutes. Photo / Mike Scott
In Kolkata's red light district World Vision runs education services for the children of prostitutes. Photo / Mike Scott

Riya has just come from school where she sat three exams that day. The exams are worth half of her mark for the semester, and Riya seems confident they went well. In her crisp blue uniform and with her hair neatly braided, talking optimistically about her chances of success in exams, she could be any bright young girl with a lovely life ahead of her.

But with the brothel owner threatening to evict them unless Latika finds alternative accommodation for her daughter, Riya knows this is make or break time.

"Because of me, the woman who owns the brothel is making trouble for us. I've convinced my mother not to leave Kolkata yet because I'm studying and we're getting so much help from World Vision," Riya says, her fingers running over the stitching on the hem of her skirt. "I don't want to leave just yet."

She knows, too, that it's costing her mother to protect her.

Part of Kolkata's red-light area, where younger, prettier girls are highly sought after by the punters. Photo / Mike Scott
Part of Kolkata's red-light area, where younger, prettier girls are highly sought after by the punters. Photo / Mike Scott

"Some customers who come at night ask about me. But my mother keeps me in another room when customers are coming. If they say they'd rather have me instead, she says no."

I tell her that when I was talking to her mum, I got the very strong sense that her mother would die rather than let any man abuse her.

"Yes," Riya agrees. "My mother loves me. In the whole world, I have only my mother and my brother. We depend on each other."

She has a plan, that would see Latika earn enough money to keep Riya in school and, possibly, bring her brother back from the village.

"We want to start a hotel," says Riya. She pauses. Perhaps a cafe she says, as her mother is a very good cook. "I need to stay in this district so I can keep going to school. So we're looking for somewhere near here to stay if we can get help from World Vision."

She says she would be able to help her mother with the cooking and cleaning duties after school and says she'd have no trouble keeping up with her studies. She's determined to finish school and get a job - she's not sure exactly what she wants to do but she knows she wants to help people as it would be an opportunity to repay the people who helped her. And she wants a job that will enable her to take care of her mother and repay her for what she's had to do to care for Riya and her brother.

As we're finishing up the interview, Riya turns to our translator and says something to her.

The translator says Riya wants to know if she can say something to people in New Zealand.

"We need to get out of this community. Please help us so my mother can start her business. I just want my mother and I to be happy - and safe."

To donate to the Not for Sale campaign go to World Vision