Natalie Grant is a popular Christian recording artist who has a passionate concern for children involved in the commercial sex industry. While watching a "Law and Order" episode she was exposed to the harsh reality of child trafficking in the United Sates, where children are exploited as cheap labor, many as sex slaves. Now, she is using her voice not only to create music but also to increase awareness about the sexual exploitation of children around the world.
The idea that adults would repeatedly abuse an innocent child for their own purposes is what motivated Grant to focus on this particular issue over others. "Children are not old enough to make decisions on their own to be involved in prostitution. They are being forced into it; they are not even old enough to spell their names. It is the most debased part of humanity I've ever seen," says Grant.
What really caught Grant's attention was the fact that children were being forced to become sex slaves so close to home. She says, "I could fathom it happening in a far-off place, but I was not prepared for that kind of reality here in the United States.
"This is not just in India," she explains. "The Department of Health and Human Services reports that 30,000 children were trafficked into the United States—into our own neighborhoods and towns."
What can North Americans do to help reduce human trafficking?
"The first thing to do is to recognize it. It's so dirty to think about that you don't even want it to exist," Grant says. She challenges the Christian community in particular: "We should not be afraid to talk about it in North American churches. It is the very thing we should be addressing."
Natalie never thought her life would be changed by watching television, yet it was the spark that ignited her passion to help child prostitutes. Ever since her awakening to this issue, her life has changed; her focus has shifted. "Every day I’m amazed how God is opening doors for me to do this," she says. "What I thought was going to be my life all along, playing music, is now my platform to encourage the church to get involved beyond their four walls—to do something that Jesus has taught us to: to love your neighbor as yourself."
But simply knowing about the problem doesn't solve it. The second thing Grant encourages North Americans to do is to support those who are already providing relief to victims.
"We ask them what they need: food, clothing, whatever resources they need to keep building relationships. Do they need a playground?" says Grant about her partnerships with other relief organizations. "I want to do whatever we can to help [children] be able to become kids again and to give them their childhood back. I see some innocence still intact."
Grant visited Bombay, India, to see the problem firsthand. She was saddened when she saw a little girl being kept in a cage right on the street as a sex slave on display.
After visiting Bombay, Grant was inspired to start the HOME Foundation. Natalie explains, "The special thing about the HOME Foundation is that I have 100 percent control of where the money goes. This year, all of it is going to the Bombay Teen Challenge and to build a medical facility for The Village at Ashagram."
Bombay Teen Challenge helps women and children involved in the sex trade. It has a shelter in the red-light district of Bombay that provides food, shelter and educational assistance for the children of commercial sex workers. The medical facility known as The Village at Ashagram will be located about two hours outside of Bombay. It will provide medication and care to children once involved in the sex trade. This is much needed, because 85 percent of prostitutes and sex slaves rescued from the streets carry the AIDS virus.
Grant was touched by the personal story of K. K. Deveraj, founder of Bombay Teen Challenge. According to Grant, "K. K. Deveraj was born into the highest caste in India. His family in Lebanon is very wealthy from oil. When he became a Christian at 21, his family disowned him, and he was kicked out of the highest caste forever. He turned his back on money and comfort to go back to India to work with the untouchables, in the heart of the red-light district, trying to get them out." Grant is thankful that she can help support people like Deveraj, who has given his life to seek out and help these young girls unable to escape lives of abuse.
The innocence of childhood should be nurtured and protected at home. Grant named her foundation the HOME Foundation because she wants to help provide a way for children to feel safe. "As a little girl, I was given many comforts. I lived in a suburb with two parents. I had everything I could want and more," she says. "And here I look at these girls who have nothing familiar: no mother's arm, no pat on head from dad, no playground, sports, school—all the things we take for granted that are a part of a normal childhood."
Grant explains, "No matter who we are, we need a place where we belong, where we feel safe, where our secrets can be told. These girls have none of that; it has been ripped away from them. Home is where they should be able to discover who they really are."
The third thing Grant advises for those concerned about this issue is to pray. "Prayer is free, and you can do it anytime," she explains. "I am a firm believer that prayer changes things. I can't give an explanation, but I've seen it at work in my own life. I'm not a hero on the front lines, but I am doing everything I can to raise awareness. Relief workers need prayer. They are giving their lives for these people."
Grant probably will not see the end of child prostitution, but she will see some lives changed through her foundation and organizations like Bombay Teen Challenge. Grant is optimistic about what she can do to help. She says, "[I want to] be like God. He sees individuals, not the sea of humanity. If I can just save one life, it will be worth it."
Visit the HOME Foundation website to learn more about the programs being provided to help rescue girls from prostitution.
Sponsor a child. Sponsored children and their families are less likely to be exploited by human traffickers.
Read Children In Need's report on the sexual exploitation of children.
By Laura Prewitt
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