India's Trade in Misery

Article excerpt

Byline: CHRISTOPHER MATTHEW

Unreported World (C4); A Picture Of Britain (BBC1)

WATCHING Sam Kiley trying to get to grips with child prostitution in India in Unreported World on Channel 4 on Saturday evening, I was torn between admiration and frustration.

I admired his courage at daring to expose this ever-growing cancer on the body of the sub- continent.

(Troublemakers have been known to get acid thrown in their faces.) At the same time I couldn't help wondering what the point of the film was.

Obviously, no decent person could feel anything other than revulsion at the idea that, in a civilised country in the 21st century, girls as young as ten and 11 can be picked off the streets, transported hundreds of miles from their homes, and sold into sexual slavery.

The fact that the parents and families of these children can only guess at their fate and will spend the rest of their lives in mental agony compounds the outrage.

But is anything to be gained by a well-meaning British television reporter chasing around India, interviewing all sorts of people, from sad-eyed parents of lost children and street prostitutes to brothelkeepers and senior policemen?

The results of his inquiries are undoubtedly distressing, but at the same time they are depressingly predictable.

The parents wring our hearts; the prostitutes almost certainly lie about their age ('and the Moon is made of cheese,' said Kiley after a couple of young teenagers had claimed to be 19 and 24); the madams screech and threaten; the police express concern and occasionally leap into action.

But one suspects they're only doing it for the camera and really have other concerns on their minds. Indeed, as far as the locals are concerned, they wouldn't trust the policemen who work in the red light districts any further than they could throw them.

Mumbai's Assistant District Commissioner of Police told Kiley that in his opinion prostitution is good for society. Without it, there can be no civilisation. He added that he did draw a line at child prostitution, though.

A raid on a notorious Mumbai brothel called Sylvia's, instigated by Kiley with the help of a senior member of the local Rescue Foundation, appeared to support our, and Kiley's, worst fears.

Thanks to a tip-off, there wasn't a child in sight when they arrived, but investigation revealed a warren of tiny hidey-holes into which 18 terrified and half-asphyxiated children had been crammed.

Good work Kiley, one thought. It was all worthwhile. Yet moments later, the police had allowed the whole lot to run away into the crowd. They assured Kiley that they would come to no harm. …