The Girl Store, an Indian non-profit, raises money to stop sex trafficking in India

The Girl Store - sells munificent souls the ability to fund little Indian girls' educations

Universal Life Church ministers love weddings, but not all weddings are legitimate affairs. This holds especially true for child marriages, which have received greater attention lately in India in the wake of that country’s Akshaya Tritiya, a festival of mass weddings. To combat child exploitation, one partnership has developed a campaign called “Buy A Girl”, which resembles a sex-trafficking scheme but actually purports to save girls by funding their education. It may seem tasteless, but the point is that we pursue the most effective ways of protecting children against exploitation.

The livelihoods of little girls from India are for sale on The Girl Store

A screenshot from The Girl Store's website, where people can purchased basic supplies for impoverished Indian girls at risk of sex slavery

The campaign is being sponsored by the non-profit Project Nanhi Kali, an initiative of Indian businessman Anand Mahindra. Together, the charities have designed a Web site called “The Girl Store”, which resembles an online clothing store but purports to sell something much different from hats, shoes or scarves. “Experience the sensation of buying a girl–her life back”, says the introduction. It even has a brick-and-mortar store Midtown Manhattan. In actuality, the store doesn’t sell girls; it funds school supplies for girls’ education. Sponsors (including nondenominational wedding ministers like ours) have the option of purchasing everything from pencils and backpacks to workbooks and uniforms, all with the aim of giving impoverished Indian girls the chance to escape sex slavery and child marriages through education.

Not everybody appreciates the attention-grabbing irony of the campaign, however. Catherine A. Traywick of the Ms. Magazine blog has has criticized the campaign’s marketing strategy as counter-productive: “[H]ow does purchasing a handful of school supplies handily solve the rampant global problem of human trafficking or the much less visible—though similarly pervasive—sexual abuse of children within the home?” she asks, adding that “[i]t’s an outrageous and absolutely erroneous notion, and one that implicitly places the onus of personal safety on the child rather than on her family, her community, or the potential perpetrator.” Some might say the “Buy A Girl” campaign fails by taking the wrong approach to tackling trafficking and overlooking the core of the problem–where abuse starts.

An Indian child bride; a fairly common site even in the rapidly-modernizing modern India

A shockingly large number of young Indian girls become child brides, like this one

Others have lauded the campaign, defending its strategy as an effective way of marshalling support and gathering resources. For some, selling pencils and backpacks might seem like a pittance in the global fight against sex trafficking, but apparently it has made a difference. According to one Forbes article, the store “sold out all stock in less than 24 hours of its launch”, while Nanhi Kali “mobilized over $10,000 in less than 24 hours, which means that another 150 Nanhi Girls will be educated for a year. It costs only $65 to sponsor a girl’s education for one year through the program.” People like Traywick might criticize the “Buy A Girl” campaign’s strategy as misguided, but Goodson’s data show it has succeeded in helping girls by putting them in school and giving them opportunities.

It is indisputable that sex trafficking devastates lives, but it remains less clear how it should be dealt with. Nanhi Kali’s “Buy A Girl” campaign tries to fight trafficking by funding girls’ education, but the controversial use of satire has elicited mixed reactions from the public. While it offends the sensibilities of some, it seems to have produced concrete, positive results. Either way, those who become a minister to fight injustice should be doing whatever it takes to prevent girls being sold into marriage or slavery.

What do you think? Would YOU be comfortable “buying” a girl?

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