Dressed in a dark purple sari, she carried herself with an elegance and grace that made it difficult to imagine the harshness she had endured.
After she finished decorating us with the traditional Indian body art, the year-old would have to go back to the brothel where she had worked since being lured from her family as a teen.
Local anti-trafficking group Oasis India had brought Muskan to visit us and practice her henna painting skills, which the charity had helped her learn as a way to one day support herself in a new life. Sitting across from her, so close that our knees were touching, I was struck by an awareness that she was just like me. While in the abstract, human trafficking and slavery can seem like something that happens to people who are not like us, the reality was right before my eyes. Oasis helped Muskan learn the art of henna painting.
Supplied Muskan carried herself with grace. Supplied Graceful, quiet and humble, Muskan looked like any other Indian woman of her age.
The only sign of brutality was the scarring on her brow, which her case worker explained was from when she had run away to get married, but was captured and beaten along with her husband. Muskan was pregnant with her daughter at the time. An afternoon spent painting the hands and arms of 12 young British and Australian women was a rare diversion. When the time came to pay Muskan for her work, we came to a chilling realisation.
Together with the Oasis worker and Stop the Traffik group leader, we hastily hatched a plan. We quickly gathered together the full 20,, plus a bit extra to get Muskan on her way.
Train tickets were booked online. We had to try. Supplied As we saw her out the door, it was impossible to predict what would happen, and Muskan appeared circumspect about a second bid for freedom. But a few weeks later, we would receive confirmation that, incredibly, we had succeeded. The Oasis worker had taken Muskan and the envelope filled with 20, rupees back to the brothel. It was that easy. So when we got the news that Muskan had been saved, it was huge. Trafficking is so widespread, it can seem impossible to tackle.
But Oasis are doing amazing things. Oasis confirmed that Muskan had called from her home town, where she was safely ensconced with her young daughter. Her mother knew what her situation was and she was supported — a relief to hear, as many trafficking survivors struggle to be reintegrated to their families. As the oldest of three sisters and one brother, she grew up with a father who worked as a porter in a hotel, and a mother who was often sick.
Under huge financial strain, the family struggled year after year to eat and to provide an education for their children. He offered to take her on the train to Mumbai, where he was heading anyway. Believing that she would be given a job doing household work, her father allowed her to go. This is a typical example of how trafficking and slavery happens. A sophisticated human trafficking industry operates underground throughout India and other countries where severe poverty exists.
Former sex slave opens up on horrific childhood2: But once the victim is in their hands, they are sold into sex slavery or into manual labour. They are held until their purchase price is repaid with interest, however they are paid such low wages that buying their freedom is almost impossible.
The charity is one of many organisations in India working hard on the prevention of human trafficking, as well as supporting those currently working in slave-like conditions. They undertake interventions where they can, rescuing about 35 trafficked children each month, and run drop in centres in the slums where victims can come for support and to learn skills.
Oasis also provides childcare for children of those caught in prostitution, to give respite from the unfortunate situation where kids are forced to see or hear their mothers servicing clients. The charity continues to support Muskan in her integration at home, and reports that she is relishing time with her daughter and planning her new business.
Kate Nicholl is an ethical supply chain expert at The Ministry Consultants. She visited Mumbai in January with a Stop the Traffik , a global coalition campaigning against human trafficking.