LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Hollywood actress Gillian Anderson says the growing problem of human trafficking must no longer be ignored, and hopes her new film about a young Nepali girl sold as a sex slave will highlight the horrors of the trade.
At the European premiere of the film “Sold”, Anderson said she had been unable to refuse the role after being shocked by a recent report which said the global trade in humans is worth $150 billion a year.
According to the United Nations, at least 150,000 people are trafficked in South Asia every year – mostly for sex work, but also for labour, forced marriages and the organ trade. Activists say actual numbers are likely to be far higher.
"It's illegal in many countries, but it's kind of looked over because so many people are profiting from it in big business around the world," Anderson, who rose to fame playing Agent Dana Scully in "The X-Files", told Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Executive produced by Academy Award winner Emma Thompson, the film opened the London Indian Film Festival on Thursday. Fans attending the red carpet extravaganza to catch a glimpse of the cast were greeted by Indian drummers on a balmy evening in central London.
The film is based on a 2006 book by Patricia McCormick, and tells the story of Lakshmi, a girl trafficked from rural Nepal to work in a Kolkata brothel. A passing American photographer, played by Anderson, notices Lakshmi crying at her bedroom window and hatches a plan to save her.
Tshering Lama, Nepali spokesman for Childreach International, the film’s charity partner, said his organisation had found villages where there are no girls over the age of ten because all had been trafficked into sex slavery in the big Indian cities such as Kolkata and Mumbai.
Childreach chief executive Firoz Patel said: "Twenty thousand children every year get trafficked in Nepal, and there are 200,000 young girls currently in brothels in India forced to work as human sex slaves. It’s a massive problem, and this film is going to be huge in helping to shine a light on our #TaughtNotTrafficked campaign."
One way Patel’s organisation wants to address the problem is by training teachers to look out for potential victims in order to keep children in schools. Survivors will return to high risk areas to talk to parents and children about their experiences.
The stigma that survivors face after being rescued is an issue addressed by “Sold”, which depicts an organisation dedicated to helping women and girls who have escaped sex slavery in Kolkata.
Violence against women in India has been under increasing scrutiny since December 2012, when the fatal gang rape of a 23-year-old Delhi student shocked the world. Some changes have come since then, such as the passage of the “anti-rape law”, which introduced the offences of sexual harassment and acid attack and formally recognised human trafficking.
"Things are changing, and the Delhi rape precipitated that," Jeffrey Brown, director of "Sold", told Thomson Reuters Foundation. “There is a real movement for women’s equality, and (this film) is part of that."