Out of the cages by Penny Jaye
Rhiza Edge, 2018. ISBN 9781925563412
(Age: 14+) Highly recommended. Meena and Putali are two young girls living in impoverished rural families in Nepal with no hope of schooling or any kind of future away from the daily toil that is their life. Meena's father is a drunk who beats her regularly and Putali's father has disappeared. So when Meena's boy cousins tell them about exciting job opportunities in the city, it seems like an escape from all their problems. Putali will be able to send money to help her mother.
However it is not long before they find that Meena's uncle has lied to them, there are no waitressing jobs; they are trafficked to a brothel in India, prized for their beauty, fair skin and youth - Putali is only 11. As the littlest ones, they are kept in secret rooms, in a hotel with caged windows. They have to pay off their debt, the purchase price the Madam has paid for them.
Penny Jaye's novel shows just how easily young girls can fall prey to the deception of traffickers; we understand the girls' hopes, disillusionment and despair, as they find themselves in a trap without any chance of escape. Fortunately there are services working to save sex slaves - and at great risk to herself one of the workers manages to get Meena to a hospital and to the Little Sister Rescue Foundation. Whilst Meena is initially distrustful of everyone, she gradually realises that she is one of the lucky ones. But it is not an easy path to find trust and friendship again, she will always carry the guilt of what happened to Putali.
The Rhiza Edge website has information about the story behind "Out of the cages". There is also a YouTube video of the author speaking about the themes of the book. Every year thousands of people - women, men and children - are trafficked across the Nepali border, sold into slavery in India, in China, Thailand, Dubai, even Australia. The focus of Jaye's book is the hard path back - to rehabilitation, to home, to finding friends and to finding one's own self worth again. The book quickly draws in the reader, and while the topic may be dark, it is does offer hope that there are people working together to help bring an end to slavery.