At 16, she has the body of a 24-year-old.
Forced to take hormone pills to enhance her breasts and widen her waistline, Sunita Gowda (name changed) from Yaadgiri in Karnataka is among many small-town girls in her brothel who would, in Bob Dylan’s words, make love just like a woman.
Oestrogen, the female hormone, would be laced with her morning milk and lunch rice along with an occasional shot of the male hormone testosterone, to soup up her desire. Nevermind that it gave her a slightly hoarse voice and a faint flush of facial hair.
Doctors conducting age tests on rescued sex workers in the state say this is the devious new trick being used by pimps to avoid stringent punishment for trafficking in minors — which ranges from seven years to life imprisonment for children (below 16) and seven to 14 years for minors (below 18) as opposed to just three to seven years for trafficking in non-minor girls.
The police are aware of this. “We have been rescuing children in raids,” says S.M. Sayyed, special inspector general of police (protection of atrocities against women). Medical sources confirm officials from the Child Welfare Committee visited chemists in Deonar to check the possible sales of such drugs.
The demand for minors is the main reason behind this disturbing trend. “Customers prefer virgins and minors. Many believe doing so will cure them of diseases, especially HIV/AIDS,” says Shyam Kamble, who runs Freedom Firm in Pune.
“They didn’t pay, just exploited me. Since I didn’t eat well, they forced me to have milk and mixed was something in it to give me energy,” says Sunita, who twice ran away from a brothel in Bhiwandi before she was finally rescued seven months ago. Another minor rescued from Mumbai told HT she put on five to six kg in two weeks. “They gave me two-three tablets at a time; it made me fat and weak. I found it difficult to climb stairs after a point.”
“Rescued girls complain of irregular growth and developing of masculine characteristics,” says Priti Patkar of the NGO
The biggest problem social groups are facing is establishing the fact that these girls are being injected with such hormones. Dr Anita Thakur, gynaecologist and consultant for Rescue Foundation, says it is difficult to detect hormone levels.
“Rescued girls open up only after a point of time, by which time the effects of the hormones have worn off.”