“What is the point in having a story and not doing anything about it?” asked Rani Hong, 40, a survivor of child trafficking who runs the Los Angeles-based Tronie Foundation that fights human slavery.
Hong, who was born in Kerala, was sold as a slave at the age of seven to a trader, who tortured her. “There was not even a single day in that year, that I didn’t cry or think of ending my life,” said Hong, who spoke on ‘Women’s Empowerment: Agents of Change in Ending Exploitation’ at the American Centre on Thursday.
The trader sent Hong to the US, where she was rescued by her adoptive mother. “My adoptive mother never questioned my background and instead gave me my lost childhood,” she said. The relief, however, didn’t last long. Hong’s adoptive mother succumbed to cancer when she was only 16.
Hong enrolled in a community college on a Rotary Club scholarship and married Trong Hong, who was also a victim of slavery as a child soldier in Vietnam. It was in 1999, during a visit to India that Hong traced her biological mother in Kerala.
“That moment cannot be expressed in words,” she said wiping off tears. “Looking my mother in the eye, I realised that I had to do something to do my bit for the 27 million slaves across the globe,” she added.
She set up the Tronie Foundation, which has been working for the liberation of bonded labourers across the world. In 2009, the Foundation conducted a community awareness campaign in north east India, where human trafficking is common.
“It is hard to believe that the urban population considers slavery as a phenomenon existing only in the rural and economically backward regions of the nation,” said Hong. “In reality, Mumbai is a haven for prostitution and Delhi is the destination for bonded labour.”
In recognition of Hong’s work, she was awarded the 2011 Jefferson Award-a Nobel Prize for public and community service for Washington State; 2008 United Nations Human Rights Award; Seattle Human Rights Award (2008) and the Tom Wales Foundation Passionate Citizenship Award (2007).