A terrible lesson to learn
It was the first lesson a taxi driver tried to teach me when I moved to India.
A woman cloaked in a dirt-stained sari holding a child with a bandaged and blood-soaked hand knocked on the taxi window. She pointed to the child and held out her hand for money.
Filled with a combination of sadness, guilt and responsibility, I began to roll down my window. "No madam!" my taxi driver implored. "This is very bad," he continued, shaking his head ever so slightly.
I agreed it was very bad but continued to roll down the window to hand over the 100 rupees ($1.80), which was all I managed to grab in the bottom of my unorganized and overstuffed purse before the traffic light changed.
As we drove off I was caught off guard when the taxi driver glared at me through the rear view mirror. It turned out that he was referring to me giving money when he said it was very bad. He said gangs ran the beggars and that sometimes they would maim children to get more sympathy and in turn get more money from unsuspecting passersby.
I didn't want to believe him. So I started asking other residents of New Delhi if that could possibly be true. Just about everyone I asked would shake their head and confirm what I didn't want to hear. "It is true," they would say. "How do you know?" I would ask, receiving a reply that it was "common knowledge."
The truth is I didn't fully believe what I was hearing because it was too terrible.
But after a couple of years of living in India I ran across a story in an online version of a local paper that caught my attention. The article talked of the arrest of an alleged gang member who was accused of being part of a ring that snatched children from the streets, maimed them and forced them to beg in Bangladesh. Then the clincher: The suspect was caught because one child had survived a vicious attack that nearly killed him and he managed to identify his attackers. I couldn't have imagined how vicious the attack was until I met the little boy.
My crew and I were already planning a trip to Bangladesh to do several other stories so we added one more hoping we might get a chance to talk to the boy, his family, investigators and the accused. It seemed like a long shot because investigators were still searching for members of the alleged gang and the family was in protective custody because the little boy was going to be the key witness in the case against the accused.
With the help of a local journalist, we found our way to the family and a human rights attorney who had helped in the case, along with a commander with the Rapid Action Battalion, the elite paramilitary force investigating the case. We contacted the family and they agreed to meet us. So in early 2011, I found myself sitting in a room with my crew waiting patiently for a recovering seven-year-old boy and his family. I was not prepared for what happened over the next 15 minutes.
The boy walked slowly in with his father and sat down on the couch across from us. He was absolutely adorable with his big brown eyes, long black lashes, and shy smile.
I walked over to greet him and showed him a small video camera so that he could see what he would look like if he wanted to do the interview. He was enamored with the camera and just wanted to play with it. Suddenly the shyness of meeting a stranger was gone. I cannot describe him well enough for you and I cannot show you a picture of him because of many reasons that include the fact that he is still in a witness protection program. But it seems nearly impossible that he was so friendly with complete strangers after what he'd been through.
As I backed up to sit back down and talk with his father through a translator, his father stopped me and began a series of motions that at first confused me and then made me gasp.
He was trying to pull his child's pants down. He was visibly upset. He was desperately trying to tell me something but I was too busy trying to keep the boy's pants up while his father was trying to pull them down. I didn't want the boy humiliated in front of strangers. Finally his father stopped pulling but he wanted everyone in the room to understand how terrible this all was and the life long problem his son would now have. The attackers had hacked off the child's penis.
Above the waist the scars on the boy's skin revealed a night of horror. The child's chest and stomach had been slit open, his head bashed in so hard that it was indented on one side and his throat had been cut. By most accounts he should not have survived. But he did. We all talked for a while and then he, his mother and father agreed to sit down with us and tell their story.
Their story aired on CNN around the world.
At the time none of us had any idea that a year and a half later we would meet again under very different circumstances.
This time it was not because of a blatant disregard for the life of a child but because of quite the opposite. This time we were meeting again because several strangers on the other side of the globe had agreed to do something to restore what had been taken from this little impoverished boy.
The only thing this small group of strangers hoped for in return was to give the boy from Bangladesh a reason to believe in humanity again. It appears they got their wish.
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