Rani Hong was born in southern India, where she had a normal childhood with her mom, dad, and four siblings.
Yet when her father became ill, a well-respected woman in their neighborhood offered to help. She asked Rani’s mother if would be willing to send one of her children to live with her.
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And so, at 7-years-old, Rani went off to live with this woman, though her mother and siblings often visited. Then, after around six or eight months, the woman sold Rani to a man across the state border in Tamil Nadu.
Held captive with other trafficked children, Rani says they were forced to work 12 hours a day at a brick factory. At night she was put in a cage, part of what is called “seasoning for submission,” where a child is abused and tortured until they submit to the will of their master.
The South China Morning Post spoke to Rani about what happened next:
They barely gave me any food, I was malnourished and beaten and became so broken down that I was of no value. Because I couldn’t make any more profit for my trafficker, he shipped me out of India and into Canada and then into the United States (for illegal adoption).
When I got to the US (in 1979), I looked physically and mentally ill. I was adopted by a single woman. She was wonderful; she really was the turning point in my life – she rescued me. All she knew was that I was an orphan child, but I wasn’t what she expected, I was very much down and out.
I met my future husband, Trong Hong, at high school. It was a blind date set up by a friend. It’s very scary and difficult to talk about your past trauma and you are definitely not going to talk about it on your first date. It was two or three years into our relationship before we shared the stories of our pasts.
He was born in Vietnam and his father put him on a boat to escape being recruited as a child soldier, which is a part of trafficking as well. So, aged nine he escaped and ended up deserted on an island in the South China Sea, where he built himself a shelter out of banana and coconut leaves.
When Rani turned 28 she decided to go back to India on a quest to find her birth mother, where through a “series of events that seem like miracles I was reunited with my family, my mom.” Her mother said she was told that Rani had died, and she had spent the last 21 years relentlessly searching for her.
That’s when Rani decided she needed to become an advocate and take on child trafficking.
Rani went on to go before the UN Assembly, asking for the creation of the World Day against Trafficking in Persons, which is now held on July 30. She’s also founded a label called Freedom Seal, the goal of which is to reward companies that take proactive steps in the prevention of human trafficking. It helps consumers know at the point of sale that a company has done everything it can to prevent child slavery in its supply chain.
Looking back, Rani says the anti-slavery movement has grown tremendously.
“Twenty years ago, when I was working on this issue, no one would understand when I told them my story – what is human trafficking?” she said.
“Today there are events around the world and corporations and companies joining the fight to bring greater awareness, but also to take concrete action.”