Born into Brothels
Born into Brothels is a documentary made by Zana Briski and Ross Kauffman.
Zana spends a couple of years in Sonagchi, Calcutta where She developed relationships with the
children of the sex workers in the red light districts.
Her intensions were to take some still photographs of the women who work there. She would live
in the brothels for months at the time to understand the environment in which the women lived.
There she drew the interest of the children by their fascination of her camera.
She thought it would be a great idea to see the world through the children's eyes and taught them
how to use a camera.
She had to overcome obstacles and bureaucrats to make this happen.
She started to hold weekly workshops for the children to learn camera basics. They used
inexpensive 35mm cameras.
She organised to hold photo exhibitions to raise money for the education of the young
This then started her journey.
There are over 7.000 women and girls who work in the red light district as prostitutes in Calcutta and they
are looked down on and have a low standing in society.
The people with even lower standing than the prostitutes are their Children.
Their life is full of poverty, abuse and despair and they have a little chance of getting out of their
environment and it will be hard not to follow in there mothers and grandmothers footsteps. To work in
the red light district.
Their parents are considered criminals and therefore the children are not accepted into private schools.
A lot of the children do not go to school regularly. They will have to go to state run institutions. This leaves
them in the same environment and this will force them to work to help out the family. Some of the
children get up to clean other peoples houses at 4 o’clock in the morning and are still running errands till
11 o’clock at night. This will leave little time for school.
The compulsory age to attend school is 14. A lot of girls will be forced into prostitution at this stage and
will have no choice to continue their schooling.
It is well documented that trafficking for young girls is still happening in India or they marry of their
children to a man who will eventually set them up as prostitutes. In this documentary there was already
talk of one of the fathers who tried to kidnap his daughter so he could sell her.
The legislation says that children are not allowed to work until they are 14 years of age.
Living in that environment they are almost forced to work to be able to survive. I do not see
any evidence of government parties stopping this or stopping prostitution for 14 year olds.
They also say that compulsory schooling stops at 14. This means that there is no support
for the children to continue their studies.
In my eyes a fourteen year old is still a child and can not make informed decisions about
her future. So I believe the government is lacking in this area and are not having the best
interest for the child.
David Poland says;
“The government is comfortable - off the record, of course - with the brothels, which serve
as a release valve for the rather uptight community. The brothel owners want to keep
their businesses going. And the children born into that world rarely get a chance to see
anything beyond that world, so they naturally acclimate to their surroundings. A perfect
eco-system, were if not for the fact that the women, children and ultimately even the men,
are living in a cage without bars”
The worst kind of victims are the ones who do not even realize that they are
To go to Boarding schools
For the children of prostitutes it is hard to get into boarding schools.
They need their birth certificate.
The need of a Ration card. This is an important document everybody needs, to be able to be
part of society in India. To work, open a bank account to get a passport, to prove ones
An Aids test. To make sure they are healthy.
These family have few or no records of their children. So there is a lot of red tape to go
through to get all the papers, before they can approach a boarding school.
Resistance comes when a family is afraid of losing another source of income.
Boarding schools are considered in their society as orphanages and therefore make the
parents feel like even bigger failures.
Kochi 10 Shanti 11
I used to want to be a doctor.
Then I wanted to be an artist.
Now I want to be a
8 Reasons to Care
When the documentary was filmed Avijit was 12 years old and living with his grandmother
and drug addicted father.
Ross Kaufman says Avijit is the most talented of the children. And feels he is a true artist
“This kid is a genius”. He seems like most artists because he has a big ego.
After Zana organized some of the pictures to be part of an exhibition in New York and
invited some photographers to meet the children. Avijit is chosen to be part of
Amsterdam’s World Press Photo exhibition where only 9 children from the entire world are
His mother a daughter of a prostitute and a prostitute herself is burned alive by her pimp.
“An accidental fire” These so called accidents are so common that there will be no
investigation. After all they are “Criminals” themselves.
Avijit goes thru a grieving period and does not want to go to school or has much interest in
They have to go thru a lot of red tape to get his passport to go to Amsterdam.
You can follow your Dreams
On his way to the airport he asked the driver to drive slowly.
“I won't get there if there's an accident”, he says. "I won't fulfil my dreams."
In Amsterdam he gets to meet and talk to children from around the world. He also gets to
experience the Dutch life style.
He gets excepted into the Future Hope foundation a boarding school for boy’s. Where he
will learn English.
Then he enrolled in to a private school in New Hampshire and also enrolled in the Real
Stories summer workshop in Utah. He himself did a documentary on the culture and
differences between American teenagers and Indian’s.
He would like to study science and wants to become a doctor in the future.
He keeps in contact with his friends in Calcutta. Luckily the majority are still in school.
He would like to help his friends and wants to show them that they too have a choice.
In a article from Samar (South Asian magazine for action and reaction) written by Svati P.
Svati says that Oscar-winning documentary “Born into Brothels” ignores local organizing
efforts and instead gives us more images of white saviours.
He goes on the tell that this is an old story of heroic white westerners saving poor brown
children who do not know any better than to persist with their dead end lives.
He believes that the documentary portrays that only the white westerns can or will save the
He feels that the parents are betrayed by only showing them from there bad side and that
the family is perceived to be only there to profit from their children.
Partha Banerjee who worked on the film as an interpreter feels the film portrays that the
filmmakers took the children out of a horrible environment of poverty into a better world.
He does not however agree.
He says that he has visited the young children a couple of times in the last years and
believes most of the children are back in there environment and worst off then they were
before meeting Zana.
The children learned a new skill, “photography”.
Regardless of what Zana’s intensions were. The children had the opportunity to get a good
To be able to go to boarding school they had to be living away from home. This got them
out of the environment.
By building a new school there is a better chance to help even more children.
They money raised from the photos and documentary will go to their education.
They raised almost $100,000
Most of all she raised worldwide awareness to their plight which will allow many more
Their life skills will make them more determined and more successful if guided well.
She has set up a non profit company called Kids with Cameras, to help more
children in the red light district.
She raises money from the art exhibitions (the children's photo’s) to invest in
the future of the children.
She is building a safe house for the children of prostitutes. So they have a chance
to learn, get out of there environment and become the leaders of the next
Most of all she recognised that it is the “Care of the Child” that ensures future
generations have CHOICE!
Future Hope Foundation
It started in 1991 as just a place to drop in for street children. To provide the basics
for boys on the street. Now it is a school for boys. The school relies on donations.
They find that a lot of the street children do not like closed spaces and have
difficulty with concentration. Some have only very basic skills and do not even
know how to draw or write.
Therefore they designed an informal play learning environment, for these
children, for the first year.
They have more then 150 children in there school which goes from kindergarten
through to year 10.
Future Hope about street Children
The children who are living on the streets are given there freedom
Most people have misconceptions about them.
Most people feel that they have no money, do not achieve anything and
are basically pathetic.
The people at Future Hope feel that all they need is a loving caring
home life. To keep them away from drugs and other criminal activities.
Show them that they can achieve as much as any other child.
They belief Future Hope is living proof of change in the children.
Sabera is a foundation founded by Spanish Nacho Cano and now has a girls
home in Calcutta.
There aim is to transform the young girls into independent empowering women
with good self confidence.
They provide the girls with food, a roof over their heads and offer an education.
They offer vocational therapy through teaching Sewing, Music, Dance and Yoga.
They are also teach computer skills.
They cater from ages 6 months to 16 years of age. This is already 2 years after
the compulsory school age.
They will be given the same opportunities that privileged children take for
The After Affect
By making this documentary Born into Brothels the awareness level of millions of
children all around the world who live without hope will now beckon for others to find
ways to change their future.
By teaching the children a skill. This builds up their self esteem and therefore they are not
afraid to try something new.
Through photography the children learn how to tell their own story and think about there
own dreams and how to get there.
To teach the children how to use the cameras in troubled parts of the world. The money
raised will be used for education. (the sale of their work)
To keep the children's work in the media. Make their work into books or show it in
exhibitions or on film. So the audience can learn and be inspired to act.
To develop an educational legacy for the children of Calcutta born into brothels. By
building a school that promotes education, the arts and leadership.
Where are The Children now?
When the documentary ended three of
the eight children were attending private
A couple of years later six are attending
Two are still living in the brothel and are
taking computer and English lessons.
The Real Achievement
She brought about a paradigm shift in a
world that didn’t know it had choices.
Change in the care of the child will only come
from those who believe that creative child
care practices must be implemented when
there appears to be no solution.
Only if she saved one child, we must remember that this child will
touch thousands of other lives.
Even if she does not save any children, she will inspire others to take
up the cause.
It is in the care of the child that our future rests.
When someone does something nice for you, remember to pay it
forward. You never know how something small could change a
The documentary “Born into Brothels”
Future hope foundation
Photo’s taken of www.kids-with -cameras.org and www.aarp.org