In collaboration with Childreach International the Byre Theatre hosted a sold out screening of SOLD, a feature length film created to raise awareness of child trafficking by focusing on the story of a young girl from Nepal. Lakshimi’s father allows for her to travel to Kolkata in India, believing that she will work as a servant for a family. Instead like many children take under false ruses and illegal deals, she is taken to a brothel where she is drugged, beaten, and forced into sex work. Lakshimi’s journey is based on the true stories of the hundreds of thousands of young girls who are trafficked out of Nepal each year, and her experiences are those of millions of children who are trafficked around the work.
The film was challenging to watch and intense, and provoked strong reactions from the audience; two members left midway, but the those who stayed for the panel discussion which followed were stirred into asking difficult questions and debating the issue head on. This response was both desired and necessary; the film is described as a “call to action” which aims to “inspire a global movement to address this crime domestically and internationally.” Discussion and awareness are a fundamental first step.
Directed by Academy Award winner Jeffrey D. Brown and executive produced by two time Academy Award winner Emma Thompson, the film is in itself a compelling watch. Lakshimi (Niyar Saikia) gives the film its focus and vision by bringing light and warmth to a film that is often very dark, and very fearsome. The strength of Niyar’s performance compliments her character’s determination and survival perfectly, but she is able also to highlight her character’s vulnerability and powerlessness. She is at the heart of the film, and its encapsulation of human struggle.
While the film explores the idea of a community of women experiencing such a situation together, the films focus on one individual is particularly important. Stories like Lakshimi’s when told are most often summarised by facts and figures which stand between the listener and a full understanding of the reality of her situation. Instead this film humanises the stories of millions by focusing on an individual who the audience can empathise with leading to a deeper understanding and a greater emotional incentive to take action. The focus on the individual is equally important when considering taking action because as in the film the actions of individuals are necessary and can make a difference.
Although given a specific location and context, Lakshimi’s story is one which resonates worldwide. The refugee crisis has brought to public attention the number of vulnerable children living in life threatening situations, but frighteningly the attention refugees have received has been in a large part negative. Rather than being motivated to help many societies and communities have chosen to turn their backs. Approximately 3000 unaccompanied minors arrived in Calais, but as reported by panellist and MP Stephen Gethins, some of these children have disappeared. Without proper protection or organisation these children were made even more vulnerable to exploitation. Where they are now remains unknown, their stories remain hidden.
But films like SOLD and other responses to crisis, artistic or otherwise, mean that the stories of threatened and abused children do not have to remain hidden. And by proving audiences with knowledge they give them the power to act. This sentiment was echoed by the attending panellists and the active audience who all provided and questioned appropriate responses and deficient assistance for survivors. With their Taught Not Trafficked campaign Childreach International work to improve these deficiencies, and to provide survivors of trafficking with the rehabilitation and education they need. The graphic and brutal nature of some of the scenes in SOLD are never exploitative, but they do make clear the necessity of help beyond emancipation; help to rebuild survivors lives, and resist the shame and stigma which make them outcasts in their societies.
The film and the evening as a whole exposed its audience to a crisis termed the ‘human rights issue of our generation.’ The films ending was hopeful but it was a hope which depended on activists not bystanders. Lakshimi did not accept her abuse and we should not accept the abuse and trafficking of the millions of children just like her. SOLD provoked a reaction, and its potential for impact and education are boundless.