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The images within are distressing.

This investigation shares five years worth of media and information gathered through field reporting, undercover work, extensive research and interviews, and collaborative recreation. Stories within are based on real life testimonies and actual incidents, but exact names, geographic locations and identifiable details have been intentionally altered so as to ensure the safety of featured individuals and contributors as agreed.

Some materials may prove distressing with regard to reporting on sexual violence and children. As far as possible, this report has tried to adhere to industry guidelines – including those set out by UNICEF – as well as certain exceptional circumstances they outline. Where specified, visual media has been digitally altered to these ends. Readers should treat this work as constructed advocacy based on the author's personal experiences and real-life testimonies, not as impartially vetted journalism.


A five-year, multimedia investigation into the child-sex trafficking and forced prostitution industries of India
Story, Media + Code
The girls had been kidnapped, raped, beaten, imprisoned. Their childhoods had been stolen. Their dreams had become nightmares.

I met them volunteering in a shelter in Kolkata after finishing high school. They were my age, or younger.

They had been rescued from Sonagachi, one of the city’s sprawling red-light districts, where they had been forced into sex slavery. 

In India every year tens of thousands of children vanish.

Many are girls in their teens or even younger who are sold into Asia’s sex industry —
some kidnapped by traffickers, others tricked with false promises of employment or an arranged marriage.

This tragedy is most acute in the state of West Bengal, on India’s northeastern border with Nepal and Bangladesh.
And Kolkata, the state’s capital, is home to a shocking number of illegal brothels.

The stories these girls confided, by turns tragic and resilient, shook me deeply, and I became determined to find out why such horrific exploitation persists.

Sonagachi is a notorious place controlled by gangs and ignored by corrupt officials.
I hit many closed doors. My investigation took four years.

I sought and gained unprecedented access to the gangs that kidnap and sell girls like commodities, parents whose children vanished on their walk to school or from arranged marriages, special police units trying to stop trafficking, organizations helping rescued girls reclaim their lives, and, most of all, to the girls themselves who work as indentured prostitutes.

I met and photographed many.

One, known by her nickname Beauty, then a 16-year-old from Bangladesh, told me her story in wrenching detail.
What I discovered appalled me.

I hope the chapters that follow will amplify the voices of these girls who need to be heard by a world that has looked the other way.

SUMMER 2018.
This project offers a glimpse into the tragedy of child-sex trafficking that haunts West Bengal and India more widely. While the problem is daunting, some nonprofit groups are working hard to aid girls who have been forced into prostitution —

Shakti Vahini


Goranbose Gram Bikash Kendra (GGBK)

Apne Aap

Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA)

Child Rights and You (CRY)
Key research and source documents for more detailed insights —

2017 Trafficking in Persons Report
US Dept of State

Sexual slavery without borders: trafficking for commercial sexual exploitation in India
International Journal for Equity in Health

Child Marriage in Rural West Bengal
Indian Journal of Development Research & Social Action

Trafficking in Persons Bill (2016 Draft)
Dept of Women & Child Development, Govt of India

'Missing Children' - Statistics / Lok Sabha
Ministry of Home Affairs, Govt of India

Study on Missing Children in West Bengal
Save the Children & Dept of Women & Child Development, WB, Govt of India

Facilitated BY
As a multi-year venture this project has received financial and editorial support from various sources since 2013. For transparency, below are listed the organisations that helped facilitate this project but retain no ties or support for this independent publication —

The Pulitzer Centre for Crisis Reporting

National Geographic Magazine

Getty Images Grants for Editorial Photography

The Guardian


The Alexia Foundation
children were reported untraced or missing in India in 2015
of those children were from the state of West Bengal.
2 out of 3
of these missing children are girls.