Stolen lives: The harrowing story of two girls sold into sexual slavery

Trafficking minors for sex is a multibillion-dollar industry that spans the globe. One region in India and Bangladesh has emerged as a hub of this illicit trade.

After a fight with her mother, R. left her home near Kolkata, one of India’s largest cities. At a train station, she met some men who tricked her and took her to a red-light district in the city. “They were laying a trap for me,” she said. Many girls who are trafficked in their teens spend the rest of their lives in brothels. R. was rescued before she was sold to one. “I just got lucky,” she said. She was sent to a shelter called Sneha run by Sanlaap, a nonprofit that prepares victims to rebuild their lives. R., who is now an adult, and some of the other girls in this story were photographed at Sneha.

Before they were sold to the same brothel, Sayeda and Anjali were typical teenagers, growing up in similar circumstances a few hundred miles apart: Sayeda in the city of Khulna in Bangladesh, and Anjali in Siliguri in West Bengal, India.

They nurtured the aspirations of teenagers everywhere—to get out from under their parents, to find love, to start living out their dreams. Both were naive about the world and couldn’t have imagined the cruelties it had in store.

Raised in a tiny two-room house in a squalid neighborhood, Sayeda spent much of her childhood on her own. Her mother would rise early and leave for the day to clean shops in New Market, one of Khulna’s commercial districts. Sayeda’s father was a cycle-rickshaw driver, ferrying passengers for a pittance. A struggling student, Sayeda dropped out of school before her teens, despite her mother’s admonishments that trouble would befall her.

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