In 1999 Kerry and Annie Hilton left New Zealand with their four children and moved to Kolkata, India to work and live amongst the poor. Naively, they signed up for an apartment in the middle of the day.
It was only when Kerry was taking a walk at night that he discovered they had moved into the largest red light area in the city. Their new neighbours were thousands of women forced into prostitution by trafficking and poverty. That was the beginning of a business named Freeset.
Freeset is located in Sonagacchi, the largest, most infamous sex district in Kolkata, India. Within a few square miles more than 10,000 women stand in line selling their bodies to thousands of men who visit daily. Many are trafficked from Bangladesh, Nepal and rural India. For others poverty has left them without options. The cries of their hungry children drive them to sell their bodies.
At thirteen, Sonali* was stolen from her village, dragged to the back streets of Sonagacchi and sold into prostitution. Her first customer drugged and raped her unconscious body.
Bashanti*, a daughter of poverty-stricken parents, was sold into the sex trade by her mother, sacrificed so the rest of the family could eat.
In India, prostitution is big business and thrives on exploitation and slavery, robbing the poor of dignity and innocence. (*Names have been changed.)
Freeset is a way of helping women escape a demeaning and exploitative life by giving them work making products which are sold around the world.
Freeset is a fair trade business offering employment to women trapped in Kolkata’s sex trade. We make quality jute bags and organic cotton t-shirts, but our business is freedom!
We would like to see the 10,000 sex workers in our neighborhood empowered with the choice of leaving a profession they never chose in the first place.
I had the privilege of speaking to Kerry on my radio program this morning about the work that Freeset does and their plans for the future. You can hear our conversation by clicking the play button on the audio player at the bottom of this post.