In April 2020, most people around the globe were adjusting to life at home as governments instituted lockdown orders intended to curb the spread of COVID-19. To many, the limitations on normal activities, travel and socializing felt confining.
But for 22-year-old Alexis Martin, April 2020 meant a taste of freedom after more than six years in prison—and before that, sex trafficking.33
In an article for The Washington Post, Jessica Contrera shares how Alexis ended up in prison. By age 15, Alexis had experienced so many of the most horrific things that can happen to a girl—sexual abuse, rape, a miscarriage and sex trafficking. Her trafficker, Angelo Kerney, didn’t allow her to attend school and beat her when she threatened to run away. In Alexis’ desperation to escape, she became involved in a robbery plot that ended in the murder of Kerney. The teenage girl was then tried as an adult and sentenced to decades in prison.34
Then, in April 2020, the Ohio governor commuted Alexis’ sentence, allowing her to go free with parole. Even with this taste of freedom, she continues to face challenges, such as finding a job, due to the trauma she faced as a teenager and the black mark of a prison sentence.35
Alexis’ story is one of many showing how the abuse and exploitation of girls can have devastating consequences. Her story happened in America, a country where girls typically have many freedoms and opportunities that girls in developing nations do not. And Alexis’ story happened before a pandemic that caused far-reaching social and economic impacts for the entire world.
In some places, such as the United States, the availability of COVID-19 vaccines and the easing of many restrictions have made the virus seem more distant. Yet lurking in its shadow is a crisis threatening the safety and health of girls. As social isolation and poverty have increased, girls have potentially become the most under-recognized victim group of the pandemic.
Globally, the pandemic has threatened girls’ education, increased their risk for the kind of abuse and trafficking that devastated Alexis’ teenage years, and made them more vulnerable to child marriage and teen pregnancy. While statistics from 2021 regarding girls’ well-being remain to be counted, in spring 2020 non-profit organizations were already predicting that the pandemic’s economic strain on families and the shutting down of schools would negatively impact the health, education, safety and general well-being of girls if communities didn’t prioritize giving girls needed attention, care and education.
COVID-19: A Long-lasting Threat to Education
learners globally—91% of the total—were out of school in an early April 2020 effort to halt the spread of COVID-19.
As COVID-19 rapidly spread across the globe in the spring of 2020, governments around the world decided to keep people at home in hopes of slowing the pandemic. Large numbers of people could not work at all, while others lost income as business slowed or stopped due to the drop in customers. This especially hurt low-income workers who could not simply work from home, such as migrant laborers, daily wage laborers and others who lost their livelihood during the lockdowns. Gita Gopinath, an economist and director at the International Monetary Fund, suggests that the pandemic caused the greatest recession since the Great Depression.36
Now, with the pandemic further stretching struggling families’ resources, girls likely have faced, and will continue to face, lower chances of receiving needed nutrition and attending school.
As the pandemic curtails girls’ education by forcing them out of the classroom - a problem from which many may never recover - it is also puts them at risk for abuse and exploitation.
Being in a classroom protects girls from sexual predators, unhealthy relationships and abusive parents or relatives. But due to lockdowns, many girls no longer have the classroom as a safe space.
According to the global non-profit Save the Children, “In early April 2020, in an effort to halt the spread of COVID-19, an estimated 1.6 billion learners globally—91% of the total—were out of school. For the first time in human history, an entire generation of children globally have had their education disrupted.”37
Now, more than a year later, many children have spent more than a year out of the classroom—and may never return.38
As girls stay out of school, they risk devastating consequences to their health, well-being and future opportunities. Studies from the Ebola crisis have suggested that once girls were taken out of school due to Ebola, many didn’t return, even long after schools reopened.39
School closures pose the greatest challenge for girls in developing nations, where families may be struggling financially and communities may not have access to the technology needed for distance learning. Sometimes girls bear a greater burden in supporting the family during challenging times. They may be given extra household responsibilities, including caring for younger siblings or sick family members; this can decrease their opportunities to do schoolwork at home—and their chances of returning to school when the pandemic subsides.40
As schools in some places reopen, the pandemic’s effects are starting to be seen. In Kenya, for example, only 84 percent of teen girls returned to school, while 92 percent of teen boys came back.41 This could be just the tip of the iceberg. Malala Fund, an NGO supporting girls’ education, estimates 20 million girls in developing countries will not return to the classroom.42
As the pandemic is curtailing girls’ education, it is also putting them at risk for abuse, exploitation and violence. Being in the classroom can help protect girls from sexual predators, unhealthy relationships and even abusive parents or relatives. But due to lockdowns, many girls no longer have the classroom as a safe space.43
Girls Pushed into Adult Responsibilities
more girls could be at risk of child marriage, and in 2020 alone teen pregnancies may have risen by up to 1 million.
Mayawati, a teenager in Nepal, wanted to continue school and study agriculture. “But her family’s struggles during the pandemic made her feel guilty about being a burden to her parents,” wrote Bhadra Sharma and Jeffrey Gettleman for The New York Times.44 “She dropped out of school, then married a man who worked as a menial laborer. Her dreams … have quietly slipped away.”
Mayawati’s story reflects that of others in Nepal and around the world.45 Because of the pandemic, parents struggling to feed their children may feel the need to marry off their daughters to reduce the number of mouths they must feed.46 In addition, as girls spend time out of the classroom, they may spend more time with men and more unsupervised time with boys, which increases their chances for teen pregnancy and child marriage.47 48
Save the Children predicts a “dramatic surge in child marriage and adolescent pregnancy”: Within a five-year span, 2.5 million more girls could be at risk of child marriage, and in 2020 alone teen pregnancies may have risen by up to 1 million.49
This means that those girls may lose the chance to ever complete their education, which will limit their chances for jobs in the future. In addition, girls who marry young are more vulnerable to sexual abuse and violence.50 Child marriage and teen pregnancy also threaten girls’ physical health. Girls who give birth at very young ages can face a host of complications, including miscarriage, obstetric fistula—and death.51 52
“Complications of pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death in young women aged 15–19,” says Dr. Flavia Bustreo, a leader in the World Health Organization’s Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health. “Young girls who marry later and delay pregnancy beyond their adolescence have more chances to stay healthier, to better their education and build a better life for themselves and their families.”53
“Our goal should not be a return to the way things were but instead a renewed commitment to the way the world should be, a place where every girl can learn and lead.”66
GFA workers have encouraged communities to promote girls’ education, even during the pandemic. Last October, GFA workers in one community held a small International Day of the Girl celebration at the local church, where regional pastors and a Women’s Fellowship leader shared about the importance of valuing girls.
“Children are a gift from God; they are His reward,” explained the Women’s Fellowship leader, referencing Psalm 127.
One of the pastors then prayed for each girl present while the other attendees lifted their hands toward the girls in a sign of agreement with his prayer of blessing. At the end of the program, the girls each received a pen and a chocolate bar.
These may seem like small gifts, but even small ways of showing respect for girls can impact a community.
“I acknowledged the fact that a girl child is a great blessing for the family, church and in our society, who must not be considered as a burden, rather an instrument for source of blessings,” said one woman present.
“A girl child must not be shown any partiality from her parents nor put down without knowing her potential. … She must be educated well and needs to be motivated,” shared a 15-year-old girl who attended.
As churches, non-profits and governments work together to help girls reach their potential, girls will most likely have safer communities. Parents who value their daughters will probably spend more time with them, engage them in conversation more often, and help them to develop healthy relationships. In countries where technology is available, this means parents will safeguard their daughters’ online experience.
As families and communities choose to embrace and educate their daughters, girls will face a lower risk of trafficking, violence and abuse.
While creating safe environments for girls is key, organizations and governments must also work together to end child marriage and trafficking and provide justice and care to girls who have already been victimized.
In 134 countries, child marriage (marriage where at least one partner is under age 18) can happen if a parent, judge or authority consents.67 In the United States, several states allow for child marriage if a parent consents. North Carolina and Alaska allow a girl to be married at 14 if she is pregnant.68 In 2002, North Carolina received a marriage application from a 57-year-old wanting to marry a 17-year-old.69 Because of exceptions in the law, a teenage girl may be pressured or even forced into marriage by her parents or others, so advocates suggest that governments should keep the marriage age at 18—with no exceptions.70
Calling on governments to remove exceptions to the legal marriage age can protect girls from experiencing statutory rape and/or being forced to marry someone who may have abused them. It can help these girls grow up with a better chance of finishing school and choosing a partner when they are old enough to know what is right for them.
As churches, non-profits and governments work together to help girls reach their fullest potential, girls will most likely have safer communities. And as families within communities choose to embrace and educate their daughters, girls will face a lower risk of trafficking, violence and abuse.
The Dominican Republic reached a milestone this year in the fight against child marriage: On January 6, the nation’s president approved a bill removing any grounds for child marriage.71 Now that marriage is prohibited for anyone under age 18 in the Dominican Republic, girls there will be less vulnerable to human trafficking and abuse.
Meanwhile, despite the pandemic, organizations such as International Justice Mission, Freedom Firm and Exodus Cry have continued their work to rescue girls (and other victims) from trafficking, bring justice to traffickers and provide care to survivors.
One victory in the fight against trafficking occurred in the success of the Traffickinghub campaign, which has been shining a light on the prevalence of the abuse of women and children found on the website Pornhub.72 The Traffickinghub campaign, along with a New York Times editorial by Nicholas Kristof, drew attention to this and eventually encouraged government leaders and businesses to investigate allegations that Pornhub was profiting from child pornography and rape.73 Eventually, Visa, Mastercard and Discover refused to process transactions on the site, and Pornhub had to remove nearly 80 percent of its videos. Meanwhile, senators have introduced two bills in Congress to help protect women and girls from pornography being posted online without their consent; one bill makes it easy for victims to sue platforms like Pornhub, and another requires such platforms to provide proof of age and consent for the individuals appearing in videos.74
A New Beginning
Serena, one of the women interviewed by Kristof, was 14 when a classmate asked her to send him a naked video of herself. She did, and he posted it on Pornhub without her consent. As classmates mocked her for it, she fell down a spiral of shame, suicide attempts and drug addiction.75
“A whole life can be changed because of one little mistake,” she told Kristof.76
Making mistakes is a normal part of a child’s development. But for girls, the cost of a “mistake” is often too high. Trusting someone who turns out to be untrustworthy or failing to stay safe online could entrap a girl in years of abuse and exploitation. For some girls, lacking a strong family or support system simply endangers them, apart from any decisions they have made. Girls’ risks are increasing, whether they are making “mistakes” or not.
For Alexis Martin, one mistake was trusting a man who ended up trafficking her.77 Now, although life on parole has its hardships, she is free from trafficking and free from prison. She has been living with a mentor and working to save money, buy a car and attend college. She now goes by Kee, a shortened version of her middle name, to remind herself that she is a new person.78
For girls, a single mistake—or a single experience of abuse—can yield years of pain or injustice. COVID-19 has been making their lives more difficult and more dangerous. Months of poverty, neglect and violence have the potential to derail girls’ futures. Like Alexis, girls who have endured trauma can gain a fresh start, but they will need support, advocacy and help to break the grip of destructive forces on their lives. That’s why it’s more vital than ever to provide girls with safe, nurturing environments and to bring justice and aid to those who’ve been abused.
There is much work to be done, but organizations, communities and governments can work together to equip girls with education; protect them from trafficking, child marriage and violence; and help girls who have been exploited find restoration. The COVID-19 pandemic will have years of consequences, but with God’s help, we can prevent it from destroying girls’ lives. We can witness a new beginning.
Nearly 173 years ago, on October 16, 1847, a book authored by “Currer Bell” rolled off the presses and quickly provoked a combination of praise, revulsion and gossip.
“It is a very remarkable book,” wrote a reviewer named Elizabeth Rigby. “We have no other remembrance of one combining such genuine power with such horrid taste.”1
Many literary critics today still consider Bell’s novel, Jane Eyre, remarkable, but perhaps not for the same reasons Rigby did. For one thing, Jane Eyre opens with a girl at the center of its action. And this girl is a dynamic and well-rounded protagonist with a depth, voice and independent spirit that were groundbreaking for the time.
As grown-up Jane narrates her story, readers journey with young Jane through girlhood. They feel what she feels as she experiences the sting of abuse, the devastation of loss, the joy of friendship and the empowerment of education. They watch how these experiences shape Jane into a young woman who faces messy adult situations with resolve and integrity.
Jane Eyre stands as one of the earliest and most prominent examples of a coming-of-age story with a female protagonist, and it is still considered by some to be one of the greatest novels ever written.2 Much of the strength of this story derives from the strength of its female title character, a character created by an author who had experienced girlhood herself. (“Currer Bell” was in fact a woman named Charlotte Brontё.) This novel preceded countless other popular woman-authored novels and series describing a girl’s journey to womanhood: Little Women; Anne of Green Gables; Little House on the Prairie; To Kill a Mockingbird and Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, to name a few. These stories have captivated audiences spanning generations and nationalities.
In many developing parts of the world, girls struggle to survive.
They face abuse, neglect, discrimination, trafficking and child marriage, even in the most economically stable and educated nations.
Perhaps these stories still speak to audiences today in part because they remind readers of what it means to be a girl. A girl can be imaginative and creative. A girl can overcome loss, abuse, neglect or public humiliation. A girl can learn to forgive. A girl can develop skills and abilities. A girl can think and analyze. A girl has the potential to grow into a strong woman.
A girl is a human being created in the image of God, and He is writing a nonfiction story in each girl’s life. Too often, however, girls’ dignity is robbed by other humans who do not recognize their value as human beings and God’s image-bearers. Too often, girls are treated as burdens, as sexual objects or as machines purposed solely for physical labor and child-bearing. Yet as girls learn of their value in the eyes of their Creator—and as they gain access to education, justice and financial stability—they are once again able to live as the protagonists in their own stories.
In developed areas, most girls enjoy relative stability. They go to school, eat nutritious food, enjoy hobbies, play sports and hang out with friends. But in many developing parts of the world, girls struggle to survive. Though girls in different regions may face different challenges, girls throughout the world face abuse, neglect, discrimination, trafficking and child marriage, even in the most economically stable and educated nations.
A Fight for Existence
The story of Ruth, a GFA missionary, illustrates the first and biggest threat to girls’ lives. Throughout her childhood, Ruth was treated cruelly by her parents.3 They made her work long hours in their fields, they didn’t feed her enough and they rarely provided her with new clothes. One day Ruth finally got the courage to ask her parents why they mistreated her.
“You should have been a boy!” shouted her father.
Ruth had three older sisters, and her parents desperately wanted a son. They even sold a field to give an offering to a priest of their traditional religion so he would intercede for them to have a son. When Ruth, a fourth girl, was born instead, her father was furious—and he unleashed that resentment on Ruth throughout her growing-up years.
Society’s abasement of girls yields tragic consequences. For Ruth, it led to a childhood marked by abuse. For thousands of other girls, it robs them of experiencing life at all: Girls face their first threat in the womb.
Some societies view girls as a liability and a financial burden, so many families decide they don’t want a daughter. This has made sex-selective abortion a devastating problem around the world.
In India, an effort to prevent sex-selective abortions has led to a ban on using ultrasound to learn a baby’s gender, but some people find illegal ways to get an ultrasound: The number of sex-selective abortions in India appeared to be growing around the start of the 21st century.4 There may be numerous reasons why parents illegally abort their daughters, especially because many of the abortions happened among educated families. Perhaps some people still fear having too many girls because they expect daughters will earn less for the family and will require a dowry payment upon marriage. Perhaps others simply value boys more.
Girls face their first threat in the womb.
Since some societies view girls as a liability and a financial burden, many families decide they don’t want a daughter. This has made sex-selective abortion a devastating problem around the world.
China, the largest nation on earth in terms of population, is still recovering from decades of its “one-child policy.” High abortion rates of girls caused a skewed sex ratio, leaving too many men and too few women.
“Over 30 years, China was robbed of millions of girls as families used gender-based abortions and other methods to ensure their only child was a boy,” explains Hannah Beech in an article for The New York Times. “These boys are now men, called bare branches because a shortage of wives could mean death to their family trees. At the height of the gender imbalance in 2004, 121 boys were born in China for every 100 girls, according to Chinese population figures.”5
Not only has this skewed sex ratio robbed millions of girls of life itself, but it has also threatened the girls who aren’t aborted in the womb, putting them at grave risk for abuse such as forced marriage and human trafficking.
Deprived of Opportunity
When a girl survives to childhood, she faces another great hurdle: gaining an education. An education greatly changes what choices she may have in the future. Without one, a girl may never learn to read or write. She may never be able to understand street signs, shop signs or business contracts. She may never get to choose her own career or spouse. She may never be able to help her children get an education themselves.
Many families don’t send their daughters to school for financial reasons. They can’t afford the expenses of clothing and supplies, even when they do have access to free public education. Sometimes they struggle just to put food on the table, and they deem it necessary to send some children to work to support the family. When families can’t afford to educate all their children, they may expect their daughters to sacrifice their education and help care for the home.
According to a 2018 report from Malala Fund and the World Bank, the repercussions of not educating girls are serious.6 When girls miss out on a quality education, they miss the opportunity to pursue careers that could financially benefit them and their families in the future. They also risk ending up in unstable marriages where they are abused or disrespected, and they risk raising daughters who remain in the same vicious cycle.
When a girl survives to childhood,
she faces another great hurdle: gaining an education.
Without one, a girl may never learn to read or write.
“Depriving girls of education, especially secondary school education, has dramatic costs for girls themselves, their families, communities and societies,” says the report. “These include greater rates of poverty, higher rates of child marriage, increased fertility rates, and reduced engagement in personal, familial and community decision making.”7
The report found that girls who receive only a primary education face similar challenges to women who receive no education at all. They are just as likely to marry and have children before age 18, and upon entering the work force, they earn only 15 percent more.8 When girls miss out on an education, especially due to child marriage, human trafficking or forced labor, they miss opportunities for independence and financial stability, and they risk passing on the same neglect and exploitation to subsequent generations of girls.
Childhood Cut Short
child brides worldwide, including girls under age 18 who are already married, and adult women who married in childhood.
Robbing girls of education has contributed to another global problem for girls: child marriage. In 2018, UNICEF reported there were 650 million child brides worldwide, including girls under age 18 who were already married and adult women who married in childhood.9
In some communities, child marriage remains prevalent due to poverty and deep-rooted attitudes toward girls and women. When people fail to educate their girls, they fail to see their daughters’ potential to earn income, to build careers or to dream of accomplishments beyond serving a husband and bearing children. This narrow view often causes families to perceive their daughters as financial liabilities who must be married off so a husband can provide for them.
Child marriage subjects girls to undue physical and mental stress. It gravely endangers their health, as it often pushes girls to bear children while in their teenage years. Many child brides already suffer from malnourishment, and the added strain of childbirth threatens their lives—and the lives of the babies they bear. Malnourished or unhealthy mothers often rear malnourished or unhealthy babies. Even worse, their babies may not even survive to term.
Ridhima learned this by experience.10
Ridhima was married off at the age of 12 and became pregnant only a few months later. Ridhima’s in-laws told her a pregnant lady should work to be healthy and forced her to perform difficult chores around the house, including heavy lifting. Whenever Ridhima rested because she didn’t feel well, they accused her of being dramatic to get out of work.
On top of the verbal abuse from her mother-in-law, Ridhima faced physical abuse from her alcoholic husband.
During Ridhima’s seventh month of pregnancy, her doctor said she needed to rest because of a complication. But Ridhima’s mother-in-law dismissed the doctor’s advice, and the continued strain on Ridhima’s health had tragic consequences: When the birth approached, the doctor had to perform a C-section to deliver the baby, but tragically, the child was dead.
Instead of comforting her, Ridhima’s in-laws blamed the young teenager for the baby’s death.
Child marriage not only robs girls of their childhood and endangers their health but also potentially limits and destabilizes their future. These girls typically don’t get to finish their education, so they lose opportunities to contribute to society and educate their own children. Then, if their husbands mistreat them, abandon them or pass away, these women may have very few ways to provide for themselves and their children, which may leave them susceptible to exploitation.
Corinne Redfern, a writer for The Telegraph, describes a disturbing trend in Bangladesh.
“Out of 375 sex workers surveyed on behalf of Girls Not Brides across four … brothels in Bangladesh last year, 47 percent were former child brides, trafficked into prostitution against their will,” she wrote.11
Redfern interviewed several teenaged girls who had been forced into marriage when they were as young as 11 or 12. When these girls tried to escape physical and sexual abuse, they were deceived and sold to brothels. These teenagers now face more sexual and physical abuse, and see no alternative life for themselves.
“One time, when I was new, the police came by and asked me how old I was—they said they’d had a report that I was too young to be working, and that they could help me leave,” a 14-year-old girl told Redfern. “But I don’t have anywhere to go. So I said I was 18. Now when times are bad, I think to myself, ‘This is all your own fault.’”12
The demand for child brides increases where gender-biased abortion leaves communities with a low ratio of men to women. Girls become a commodity to be secured. This problem is most severe in China, where bride trafficking has ensnared women and teenage girls from neighboring countries, such as Pakistan, Myanmar and North Korea. Traffickers lure women and girls with the promise of jobs, but victims find themselves forced to cohabit with Chinese men who don’t speak their language. Often these girls and women are kept locked in rooms and raped, as their new husband and his family expect them to bear children.13
In her article for The New York Times, Hannah Beech shares the stories of Nyo and Phyu, two teenagers from Myanmar who were trafficked to China at age 16.14 A neighbor promised to find them waitressing jobs, but after 10 days of traveling, the girls realized that was not their fate. They tried to run away twice, but they were caught and locked in a room.
“The girls were split up, each paired with a supposed husband, although no marriage paperwork was ever filled out, to their knowledge,” writes Beech.
After going home with their new “husbands,” both girls were locked in rooms. Nyo was often beaten and raped by her “husband.” Phyu’s “husband” repeatedly injected drugs into her arm before forcing her to have sex. Eventually, Phyu and Nyo both gained access to the internet. This allowed police to track the girls down, prosecute the traffickers and “husbands,” and send the girls back to Myanmar.
But the traumatic experience left both girls with painful life circumstances.
Nyo ended up giving birth in Myanmar to a daughter by her Chinese “husband.” Phyu suffered physical and psychological damage from the abuse she experienced.
“Before this happened, Phyu was so happy and active,” Phyu’s mother told Beech. “But they gave her something to make her forget and trigger her sexuality. They beat her. She doesn’t know she is ruined.”15
When many think of trafficking, they imagine a woman or teenage girl being forced to work in a brothel. While this does make up a large percentage of cases, the trafficking of girls can take a variety of forms. For some, like Ashmita, it means working as a domestic servant.17
After Ashmita’s father died, she and her mother moved into someone’s home to earn a living doing housework. Later, Ashmita’s mother sent her to work in another family’s home. Ashmita, who wasn’t yet 10 years old, was forced to wash dishes and clothes, mop floors and massage the legs of her employer. When Ashmita grew physically tired from the labor the house owners demanded, she was beaten and slapped. One time, the woman of the house put chili powder in Ashmita’s eyes.
For other girls, human trafficking means forced labor in the internet pornography industry, massage parlors that function as fronts for sexual exploitation, or “beggar mafia” networks. Whatever the form of trafficking, it leaves a deep, long-lasting mark on a girl’s psychology.
“Trafficking victims often find it difficult to overcome the traumatic reality of their exploitation and share details with law enforcement authorities that could aid in prosecuting their traffickers,” states the U.S. Department of State.18
“Girls who complete secondary school become healthier, more prosperous adults,” writes the Malala Fund. “Girls who receive a secondary education are more able and likely to contribute fully in their families, communities and societies, as earners, informed mothers, and agents of change.”25
Resisting Child Marriage
Education can help girls avoid the trap of child marriage. At school, girls may learn about the dangers of child marriage, which can help them educate their own parents. Also, as girls acquire skills and knowledge at school, they and their families see the possibility of higher education and attractive career options.
At age 13, Krupa, a Bridge of Hope student, came home one afternoon to find a crowd of people at her house. Bewildered, she asked her mother what was happening, but she only told Krupa to follow instructions. As Krupa’s neighbor started telling her to do things, Krupa realized she was being roped into a pre-wedding ceremony. Her parents were marrying her off.
Thankfully, Krupa had learned at Bridge of Hope about the dangers of child marriage, and she had promised herself she would never marry before age 18. She wanted to attend university and become a teacher.
Desperate to stop the impending wedding, Krupa borrowed a cell phone and secretly called Bridge of Hope staff members.
“Within just half an hour, they arrived at our house like angels,” Krupa recalls. “They came directly to me without looking at anyone. All I could say to them was, ‘I am only 13. What would you do if I was your child?’ They needed nothing more to hear and understand the whole situation.”
The Bridge of Hope staff talked to Krupa’s parents and explained the laws against child marriage. Krupa’s father promised not to arrange her marriage before she turned 18.
“I thank the Bridge of Hope staff for saving me from becoming prey to the trap of child marriage,” Krupa says. “My friends and school teachers admire me for my courage, but I am just glad to be an inspiration for many young girls.”
With the help of the education she received and the support of the Bridge of Hope staff, Krupa kept her promise to herself. She finished her education, graduated from Bridge of Hope and became a teacher, just as she’d hoped. She did eventually marry at age 20, when she was old enough and educated enough to make decisions about her own life.
Bringing Freedom, Justice and Restoration
Education makes girls less vulnerable to child labor, trafficking and child marriage, but justice demands the world not only protect girls from these evils but also rescue victims of trafficking and help them recover.
International Justice Mission (IJM) is one of the largest organizations working to free, defend and restore victims of trafficking. IJM and other organizations often work to track brothels where girls under age 18 are being forced to work. They work with law enforcement to remove girls from the brothels, see that perpetrators are appropriately prosecuted and help survivors to receive aftercare.
Earlier this year, IJM worked with police from two states in India to disrupt a cross-country sex trafficking ring.27Police in one region noticed girls were being trafficked to a city on the other side of India. IJM supported the police in both states as they located a brothel where many of these girls were being held. Manisha, who had been rescued from the same brothel when she was a minor in 2018, played an instrumental role, sharing information that helped direct police to the brothel. On February 22, the teamwork of IJM, the police and Manisha led to the arrest of four suspected traffickers and the rescue of two girls who had been imprisoned in the brothel.
Many other organizations like IJM work to rescue girls from trafficking, prosecute traffickers or provide aftercare to survivors. Other organizations combat trafficking by holding businesses accountable to prevent forced labor. Through initiatives such as the Freedom Seal label, consumers can help end trafficking by supporting businesses that have taken the necessary steps to block slavery from their supply chains.28
Rani Hong, the creator of the Freedom Seal initiative, fights against trafficking as someone who has survived it.29 Rani was trafficked when she was only 7 years old, forced to work 12 hours a day in a brick factory and kept in a cage at night. After she became physically unable to work, she was trafficked in an illegal adoption scheme.
Rani ended up in a loving home in the United States, grew up, got married, had children and eventually reconnected with her mother and siblings in India.
But Rani didn’t forget her childhood experience; she began working to prevent other children from facing the same fate. She spoke before the Washington State legislature to pass a law criminalizing human traffickers. She became a UN special adviser on the Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking, and she created the Freedom Seal label, mentioned above, to promote businesses free from child labor and trafficking.30
Ashmita, the girl forced to work as a domestic servant, also found freedom from child labor. After government authorities learned of her situation, they placed her in a home for girls run by GFA workers. There, Ashmita received care and encouragement from Sisters of Compassion and other GFA missionaries. She got to attend school. She played and made friends with the other girls at the home, who became like sisters to her.
“I like this place so much; I like all these didis [older sisters]. They work hard for me and for all of us,” Ashmita shared. “I like this place, and I don’t [want] to leave this place and go to any other place or orphanage because of the love and care that we get here.”31
Now, as Ashmita flourishes in a stable home where she is receiving education and care, she can dream about the future.
Writing New Chapters
In Jane Eyre, Little Women, Anne of Green Gables and most other popular coming-of-age stories about girls, the heroine gets a satisfying ending—the ending the characters and the readers both long for. Jane Eyre, Jo March and Anne Shirley find contentment accomplishing their dreams and living in safe homes with the people they love.
Real life doesn’t always bring neat, happy resolution, but it does bring the same element of hope found in those fictional stories—in an even more powerful way. In the true stories of girls such as Ruth, Ridhima and Ashmita, redemption is dawning over years of devastation and pain. As God brings restoration to their lives, they are helping many more girls to overcome the antagonists of abuse, discrimination and exploitation and to embrace their identities as daughters of the King of kings.
Ruth understands the power of this transformation as she continues to help more girls, women and communities by training younger women to minister Christ’s love to people in need.
“Let many sisters come up,” she says, “and then we will make a new history for the world and for Christ.”32
Be Part of Writing a New Story
You can help write a new story for girls around the world. There are several ways you can give girls the chance to know their value in God’s eyes and to embrace the future with confidence and strength. Here are just a few:
Give To Help Girls at Risk
If you want to help girls at risk in South Asia, consider a one-time donation to stand in the gap for children who have been rescued from desperate situations into Bridge of Hope but still lack permanent sponsors to cover their monthly needs to remain in school.