IRISH business people are "buying" babies and young girls in order to rescue them from brothels in an infamous Indian red-light district where they are kept in cages and auctioned off for sex to the highest bidder, the Sunday Independent has learnt.
A young Irishman, Marc Carey, is fighting to release the children, some as young as nine months old, from the cages in which they are imprisoned for years while pimped for sex.
The harrowing story from 14th Street in Mumbai's red-light district Kamathipura – and Ireland's reaction to it – has come to light as the world marks Anti-Slavery Day this weekend.
Mr Carey, 30, said the images of children imprisoned in the "dark, cruel and inhumane" conditions have to be seen to understand the true horror of their situation.
The former Griffith College student, who addressed the British House of Commons last week, has been working with the Jubilee Campaign and the Bombay Teen Challenge to help rescue victims and set up a safe houses for the rescued children, where they are given a second chance at life.
A number of wealthy Irish people have spent large sums of money to free the children from sex slavery. One business generously donated €20,000.
Mr Carey told the Sunday Independent: "Babies only a few months old, right up to young girls aged 11 and older, are kept in tiny dark cages for years on end. The cages are locked from the outside and manned by armed gangsters.
"You have to go down man holes and secret trap doors to get to them. Their spirit is broken and they are sold for sex for as little as €5. Virgins are auctioned off to the highest bidder.
"They are taken from families at such a young age that they can't even talk, they have no education, and they don't know the meaning of the word 'escape'. When they are older they are let out to work because the pimps know they have no means of existing on their own.
"They have children who are reared in the brothels too. The mothers are raped while the children lie beside them on the floor, or hide under the bed. Suicide and HIV is a big problem there."
Photojournalist Hazel Thompson has produced an ebook, Taken, about the scandal. Mr Carey became aware of the children's plight through his job as European marketing director for the Hard Rock Cafe. "I was tasked with picking a charity for us to support but when I came across these underground brothels, I couldn't get my mind off it.
"I'll be returning to Mumbai in February to do more work and stay for a longer period of time helping to set up houses and schools for victims and, hopefully, I will have more funds with me this time.
"To see the difference in the children once they have been rescued is incredible. But at the same time you know what they have been through, the things they have seen. A friend put together a project called 'Frame the Future' recently where she asked the children what they would like to be when they are older and then dressed them accordingly for the photograph. She had doctors, pilots, business people. Despite where they have come from, their hopes for the future are bright.
"Gandhi famously said, 'You must become the change you wish to see in the world'. How many of us are passionate or courageous enough to really follow this through? The scale of human trafficking and sex slavery that takes place in India is so daunting that it is tempting to ignore the issue."
The Dubliner urged the public to become "digital activists" to help combat human trafficking.
"It's easy to look away, but don't let something as trivial as geography in today's world be an obstacle for you. The use of the internet now means we can all be digital activists. Whether it is simply sending a tweet, signing an online petition or buying the ebook set up to support our new campaign, it all helps."
For more info or to donate go to www.takenebook.com