The photo that changed my life: 17 years later

Heading Image: May 26, 2001—Mumbai, India (c) 2001 Diana Scimone

“Do you see the cages in that window?” my contact asked.

“Cages?” I repeated with horror. “What’s in them?”

“Five-year-old girls.”

I wanted to throw up. With that one sentence, my life was about to change.

It was early on a Saturday evening in Mumbai, India—May 26, 2001. Exactly 17 years ago tonight. I was doing research for an article about forced prostitution of women. My contact was taking me through the city’s red-light district, which is one of the largest in Asia.

As a journalist I had been to dozens of countries covering everything from starving refugees in Sudan, to people living under the brutal dictatorship in Zimbabwe, to throw-away babies abandoned at an orphanage in China. I had seen a lot—but never cages that held little girls.

My contact went on to tell me that these little girls are smuggled across the border from Nepal into India, and held in cages for 30 days. They’re raped, tortured, starved, and urinated on until they no longer have a will to rebel or run away. Only then are they fit to be sold as child sex slaves.

I got my photo

“You can take a picture,” my contact cautioned, “but don’t let the pimps see you or they’ll steal your camera.”

I got my photo. It’s not the best in the world but you can clearly see the bars on the cages.

I call it the photo that changed my life. I learned there are millions of girls like the ones held in those cages. They’re raped for profit 30 or 40 times a night—night after night after night. Did I mention there are millions of them?

Varanasi, India, 2, (c) 2001 by Diana Scimone

They’re not just “over there” but “over here,” too. Child trafficking happens not only in third-world countries, but all over the world—yes, including in the United States in small towns and large cities.

With a few clicks of your mouse, you can book a child-sex tour—to Atlanta and other cities around the world. Pick your child, hair color, sex, and age, and she or he will be waiting for you in a hotel room near any major airport. You may think I’m exaggerating, but I’m not.

Child trafficking is organized crime. It’s a $37-billion-a-year industry—the 2nd-highest grossing illegal industry on the planet after illegal drugs. It’s very lucrative with very little risk. You can sell a drug once, but you can sell a child over and over again

What’s happened since I took that picture?

I came home from that trip and couldn’t stop thinking about what I’d seen. A few years later I launched the non-profit organization that became Born2Fly.

I had the crazy idea that a children’s book and curriculum could warn kids and parents about the lies traffickers tell. If we could reach kids before the traffickers do, maybe we could help stop child trafficking.

Varanasi, India, 1, (c) 2001 by Diana Scimone

17 years later we have an anti-trafficking curriculum and wordless children’s book, which more than 1,000 organizations in 65+ countries have downloaded—including in India and Nepal.

We have exciting stories in many other countries too—South Africa, Uganda, Bulgaria, Russia, Thailand, Botswana, Kenya, and many others—but today you will understand why India and Nepal are on my heart.

Those countries have been on my heart for 17 years. Along with the unseen girls in those cages.

* * *

Diana Scimone is president of the Born2Fly Project to stop child trafficking, which she founded in 2003 to reach kids before the traffickers do with free anti-trafficking curriculum downloadable at Diana’s book Audacious tells the inspiring story of Born2Fly and how a small group of passionate people (that would be you and me) have made a difference. She is a long-time friend of National Freedom Network.

Born2fly International, Inc.
Stopping child trafficking…setting kids free to soar
PO Box 664, Fort Mill SC 29716-0664
A 501c3 non-profit organization,


  • <cite class="fn">Rev. Dr. Gopi Chand Burman</cite> <span class="says">says:</span>

    Respected Sir / Madam in Christ!

    Please involved our organization in your National Freedom Network activities in Uttarakhand state of india

    • <cite class="fn">Diane Wilkinson</cite> <span class="says">says:</span>

      Good day
      Thank you for wanting to connect further. We as the NFN are a South African network, however we are also open to connecting and collaborating with international organisations. Kindly fill out the Contact Us form with more information about your organisation, and how you would like to partner. Looking forward to hearing from you! Kind regards, the NFN team

  • <cite class="fn">Stefanie Adams</cite> <span class="says">says:</span>

    What can someone like me do to help?

    • <cite class="fn">Diane Wilkinson</cite> <span class="says">says:</span>

      Hi Stefanie, I apologise for the delayed reply but I was away on sabbatical and so have only just seen your message now. Please take a look through the “Get Involved: Jump In” tab on our website for some ideas of where to start. Kind regards, Diane


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