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 photographers.
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 victims.
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 chosen.
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 photography
They have to go thru a lot of red tape to get his passport to go to Amsterdam.
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. Shah
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 children.
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.