Anti-Sex Trafficking Org. In India Training Survivors To Become Lawyers To Fight For Other Victims

These are the faces of survivors who were not only given a second chance at life, but are now working to give the same opportunity to others. This group of Indian women are part of a new initiative called the School for Justice, spearheaded by an international anti-trafficking organization called Free A Girl which was founded in 2008. The School takes in young women who were victims of the sex trafficking trade and helps them get an education so they can help to fight for other victims through the justice system.

According to the International Labor Organization, the estimated number of trafficked victims worldwide today is 21 million. There are more human beings caught up in this modern day slavery today than at any other point throughout history. It is the world’s third largest form of crime, but also the fastest-growing, despite an increase in awareness. Of the 21 million victims, 22% (4.5 million) are sex trafficking victims.

The School for Justice website shares how massive the problem is in India. It has the most underage sex workers in the world with an estimated 1.2 million children working in brothels against their will. Yet, in 2015 there were only 55 cases that led to convictions in the whole of India. The fact that many perpetrators are never punished is the reason the epidemic continues. SFJ wants to break this cycle and allow the survivors to be part of the solution.

The school was launched in April this year with just 19 girls, and already 4 have been enrolled in university courses, reports Sarah Ruiz-Grossman who put together a special report for the Huffington Post. The identities and location of the girls is kept confidential by the organization to protect their safety. The goal is for them to study law in order to improve the legal system in India so that perpetrators will get prosecuted, and victims will have a chance at escaping this life.

“I want to fight against child sexual exploitation and help others like me. I am excited about becoming a lawyer and this is why I joined the School for Justice,” said Sangita, one of the women interviewed who became a domestic worker at the age of 9, then sold to a brothel at age 13.

Although India does have laws against trafficking, they mean nothing if authorities and the justice system aren’t on the side of the victim. To add to this problem, like in many other countries, victims end up getting arrested or going to jail, rather than getting the rehabilitation they truly need to break the cycle which keeps them going back to this criminal enterprise.

In a conservative country like India where there are so many social and cultural taboos around gender and sexuality, women who do end up escaping from the trafficking trade face the added barrier of being shunned by families and communities as they are then considered less worthy. Essentially, this makes them feel like it is their fault for being exploited and creates shame around something they had no control over.

“Some parts of our society treat us as ‘something else’ or an insect that has no right to a life or to be a part of mainstream society. I am still not well accepted at my own home,” said one of the SFJ members Kalyani.

Information on the Free A Girl website lists the high poverty rate (which becomes the impetus for many underage and forced marriages among girls) and the discriminatory dowry system as causes for trafficking, which plays a massive role in the lack of gender equality as a whole in India.

“These traditions can have a negative influence on the lives of the girls and women and can increase their vulnerabilities…Due to significant inequality certain groups also have fewer opportunities on an economic, political or social level. To protect their children and to survive, some parents take drastic measures. In some cases girls are sold or kidnapped. In some parts of India women are seen as inferior and as a liability,” said the org.

Bollywood actress and Free A Girl ambassador Mallika Sherawat shared why this school and the need to drastically change the system is important.

“Underage girls forced into prostitution is a problem that we simply can’t ignore any longer. It’s the organized and systematic rape of young girls, happening on a mass scale, right here in Mumbai, Delhi and other cities in India. By freeing the girls, we’re not changing the system that allows this crime to happen. To break this cycle, we need to attack a key factor: that the perpetrators are not being punished,” she said.

Although it may seem impossible for 19 young women to change the entire system for millions of other victims in India, SFJ has only just begun and it will no doubt grow over the years. The idea for the school came about after Free A Girl worked with Netherlands-based agency Walter J. Thompson to create an anti-trafficking awareness campaign. After the agency learned some statistics about the problem in India, they realized they needed to do more than just create one of their regular campaigns.

“When we found out that hardly any of the criminals responsible for these crimes are punished – in 2015 there were 1.2 million girls in forced prostitution, and only 55 cases that led to convictions – we realized that a ‘normal’ ad campaign wasn’t going to cut it. We needed to go beyond the brief and think of a more fundamental approach. A TV ad only runs for a few weeks; we wanted an idea that would last for the next decade. School for Justice has a bold aim: to counteract the injustice of child prostitution by educating girls rescued from child prostitution to become lawyers and public prosecutors,” said a statement on their website.

So far the video they created has had a global digital reach of 1.1 billion impressions, and even won a Gold award at the 2017 Cannes Lion Festival. Yet the accolades and awareness is all about the core message of the SFJ – helping transform the lives of vulnerable girls in a country that is not adequately doing this.

“They become change agents, the issue gets talked about, international pressure builds on the system for it to change,” said J. Walter Thompson executive Bas Korsten.

Each year the school hopes to continue enrolling more women and help send them to university by covering all school, food, housing, and transport fees from generous donors. Free A Girl is already looking to expand the school into other countries like Brazil where they already work out of. The founder of the organization, Evelien Hölsken, told the Huffington Post that the bravery of these girls and their desire to help others is going to have a major impact over the years.

“That’s why the stories of every single girl in the school are so important ― they were trafficked, they were sold, it was not a choice. They are so so brave, and we are so proud of them. If nobody dares to speak out, then nothing will change,” she said.





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