By Humra Laeeq
In April, Bollywood actor Mallika Sherawat signed up as the Ambassador of the Free a Girl Movement, by a Dutch anti-trafficking NGO, to empower female victims of sex trafficking. She is encouraging young women survivors of sex trafficking to enrol in the School for Justice. Opened on April 6 in Mumbai, the School for Justice aims to educate and rehabilitate these survivors.
Will the School for Justice truly deliver justice in India?
The vicious cycle of sex-trade
The National Crime Records Bureau reports that every eight minutes, one girl gets trafficked in India. The money generated through the sex trade stands at a whopping $343 billion a year.
Young girls are lured by false promises of employment or marriage, only to be forced into prostitution. To curb rebellion, they are either tortured or drugged. Many underage girls haemorrhage and go into depression when they are sexually abused. If they manage to escape, they remain victims of stigma and families refuse to accept them. Hence, with no alternative at hand, they perpetuate the cycle of sex-trade to fill their bellies.
Often, traffickers are women who had been victims of sex trade during childhood. They adopted it as a source of income when society rejected them. Young girls who dwell in slums, get abducted or get lost place their trust in these women. Their innocence fails to shield them from the fact that perpetrators are not just male.
Lacunae of law and enforcement
India is a country where more than 77% sex-traffic cases go unpunished. Lack of lawyers specialising in sexual exploitation is a major problem. Often, sex-traffic cases are difficult to fight because of lack of evidence. Moreover, law enforcement officials often perceive sex trafficking victims as criminals and arrest them for prostitution and related charges.
Besides this, there are deficiencies in the laws. The 2014 Amendment of Section 370 of the Indian Penal Code expanded the definition of trafficking. It now includes inter-state bonded labour transport (many of which are sex traffic cases), which were previously treated as road traffic violation cases. However, with little jurisprudence on the new laws, confusion as to their interpretation and scope persists.
Other forms of redressal too are ineffective. NGOs across India pursuing legal cases on behalf of victims have limited capacity and are only able to support minimum cases through to the trial stage. The ratio of cases under trial to those lodged through FIR is 1:10 for one NGO.
Conception of a novel idea
The School for Justice in India was launched in collaboration by Free a Girl and Sanlaap—a Dutch and an Indian NGO (respectively) focused on the trafficking of women. Free a Girl fights prostitution in Asia, Brazil and the Netherlands, and has liberated more than 4,000 girls in Asia in eight years. Sanlaap has been accepted by the West Bengal Government as a standard model for the repatriation of sexually-abused children.
The idea for the school emerged after Free a Girl hired the Amsterdam-based communications agency J. Walter Thompson to create an advertisement raising awareness about sex trafficking in India. In partnership, they aim to tackle the root cause of the perpetuating cycle of prostitution in India—lack of a solid legal system and stigmatisation of victims.
School for Justice: Karmic cycle initiated
The School for Justice aims to educate the survivors of sex trafficking to work in the legal system, helping to bring down the very perpetrators who operate the illegal trade. It provides a combination of funding, security and civil amenities to former victims of underage sex trafficking.
The school will train these young women to pursue law specialising in commercial and sex-related exploitation. Classes will be held to prepare students for law exams through tutoring and mentoring. The entire programme is expected to take five to six years for each girl to complete.
This is beneficial for the victim-turned-lawyer in two ways. Firstly, they have firsthand experiences of the trade mechanism. As a result, these women are far more motivated to shake the system. Secondly, recruitment of trained lawyers in human traffic law is a high necessity in India.
To maintain the safety of the students, locations of school and universities they attend are kept under anonymity. Creating a school for survivors of sex trafficking does not come without risk—especially when training women to disrupt an illegal trade. Additionally, enrolled girls go through trauma due to their horrifying experiences. This requires the provision of proper rehabilitation.
The progress made so far
In April, the plan kicked into action with nineteen students. Four students have already been accepted at a law university this month. The other fifteen will study for another year before applying.
The students, aged between 19 and 26, live together at the housing facility provided by the school. The school covers the cost of education, food and transport—estimated to be $3,400 per student per year. Dutch private donors have already funded expenses for the next two years. The school is looking forward to Indian contributors 2018 onwards. To promote this, advertisements and media reportage have begun. Further, this initiative will spread awareness and gather international pressure for law reform.
Additionally, staff members of the school appointed by Sanlaap will be in the search to rescue girls from brothels. The organisations plan to expand the project in states like Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala where sex-trafficking is high.
Free A Girl Founder Evelien Hölsken is a boon to countless voiceless women who after a brush with terrible fate can now stand and fight for themselves. One of the students at the School for Justice says “I want to fight against child sexual exploitation and help others like me” while another says “becoming a lawyer is my dream.” Besides granting a new life to these victims, the School for Justice is fighting to uproot the disease of Indian society.
Featured Image Source: Flickr
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