Natasha interned at Freedom Firm, a non-profit organization that works to combat sex trafficking in India by rescuing minor girls who have been sold into the commercial sex trade, restoring their identities, and seeking justice against those who perpetrate these crimes.
More than 500,000 children in India are exploited every year in the sex trade.
Laws to combat sex trafficking in India
In 1956, India enacted the India Traffic Prevention Act (ITP Act) to prosecute sex traffickers, pimps, and brothel keepers. After reading the ITP Act, I was hopeful because this law meant that India is standing up for victims and taking action against the perpetrators of these crimes.
Application of the law
After reading a writ lodged by Freedom Firm against the local Commissioner of Police, I realized that although the ITP Act had been enacted, very few perpetrators have seen the inside of a prison cell. There are over 55 cases in which the accused were given a 20,000 rupee (about $315) and later absconded; keep in mind that these pimps and brothel keepers make exponentially more than this. I was told that judges, prosecutors, and police officers are often paid off and these trafficking/forced prostitution cases are purposely delayed.
My heart was broken because I could not understand how so many people could remain apathetic towards the young children and deaf and mute women who are being forced into prostitution. There are laws in place to protect the victims but the law repeatedly fails to be enforced because many officials believe that sex trafficking is a societal problem and not a legal problem.
During my second week in India I took a 5 hour trip to a nearby city to observe one of Freedom Firm’s cases that had finally made it to trial. We waited outside of the court room for two hours waiting for the case to be called. We were off to a good start because the accused rarely show up to court and the accused in this case—the victim’s mother (a common occurrence in these cases)—appeared in court. The case was called and to our dismay, the key witness—the investigating police officer—did not show up to testify. We later found out that the accused had paid him to not appear. Despite this major setback, all hope was not lost, the judge issued an arrest warrant for the officer (which is practically unheard of) and rescheduled the trial.
What does Freedom Firm do?
Freedom Firm is made up of three components: rescue, restoration, and justice. Freedom Firm has an all-male investigative staff that goes out into the red light districts in search of minor girls. Once they have a target, they communicate this to the local authorities who will then work with Freedom Firm to organize a raid. Once the girl(s) has been successfully rescued, she undergoes a medical examination to determine whether she is a minor. In order to prevent the girl from being re-trafficked, a Freedom Firm social worker (all of whom are female) then works with the government officials to get the minor girl placed into a government home. Ruhamah Designs is the branch of Freedom Firm that focuses on the victim’s restoration. Depending on the State and government home, Ruhamah Designs counsels and ministers to the victims. Once leaving the government homes, the girls are susceptible to being re-trafficked or lured back into the red light district because of poverty. At Ruhamah Designs the girls learn to make jewelry or textiles. The girls are compensated for each piece they make; this provides them with a respectable source of income which they can use to support their families.
Where do these girls come from?
Geographically speaking – the girls are trafficked from all over India, Bangladesh, and Nepal. Some of the girls are lured in with job offers; some are married off to men who later pimp them out; some are pimped out by their mothers; some are auctioned off to families who were unable to have a daughter of their own and seek to use the girls as a source of income; some are kidnapped and then trafficked; and others are dedicated to Hindu temples as a “devadasi” and then used as prostitutes.
Take a rickshaw ride with Natasha through the red light district of Sangli, India: