In India there is a huge disparity in data about an exact number of women and children in commercial sexual exploitation due to the variations and modus operandi of sex trade. In 2009 the Ministry of Women and Child Development, Government of India predicted an approximate of 3 million of which 40 percent are children. According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) nearly 1,80,000 children and more than 1,50,000 women were reported ‘missing’ of which one-third still remains untraced during the period 2008-2011. A startling fact is that 64% of the total children who remains untraced are minors. The numbers above is really upsetting when it crosses anyone’s mind that if there are 2-8 million women/children in sex trade demanded by a minimum of 10 customers a day, then the total number of service demanding men in a single day will be 20-80 million. And what is the state of mind of the men who only demands children? Is it because the children’s has poor understanding of sexuality and sex that can be easily exploited? Or is it the stumpy self-confidence of the men when he has sex with an adult?
Trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation accounts for 58% of all the trafficking cases globally, and approximately 80% in India. Commercial Sexual Exploitation is a demand-driven phenomenon, made possible by traffickers, sold to the brothels and bought by the ‘customers’ as per the requirements. Vulnerability is an added factor that makes women and children easy targets for being trafficked. In most of the times the social economic conditions makes them defenceless and fairly low risk of recognition. Children are more exposed to sexual exploitation as they are not matured enough or legally empowered to make their own choices.
The sexual exploitation of women, especially girl children, depends on the demand. It is a known actuality that flesh trade cannot be wiped out until men stop demanding ‘services’. These demands are high in specific areas which in turn are the gateways for the development of red light areas across the borders. Many of the time the silence and non-involvement of the public also encourage the commercial sexual exploitation of women and children. It is in this regard that Prajwala’s active department, Community Based Prevention Program implemented an effectual campaign called Men Against Demand (MAD). The program has been delivering first-rate responses from the public as well as the law enforcements since its implementation in 2007.
The campaign involves gathering the attention of the public in the first place and then it moves onto involving the ‘common’ men and encourage them to change the collective opinions. The speeches, movies, as well as posters and handouts shown during the campaign questions the common assumptions, believes and other superstitions which are the root causes of the demand.
The documentaries and other survivor statements question the morals of the public gathered with regard to the existence of flesh trade and its direct indication with demand. The campaign has also resulted in several thousands of Community Vigilant Groups (CVGs) to fight sex-trafficking alongside with Prajwala. With an average of 150 campaigns an year, it has been able to gather 242,981 participants, 2630 CVGs and 2,19,799 signatures since 2007.
The following is a postcard from Neeharika Tummala, GlobalGiving's In-the-Field Representative in India and Bangladesh, about her recent visit to PRAJWALA.
As part of the holistic effort in the fight against sex trafficking, Prajwala also does the tough work of community awareness where the Prajwala program team travels to various districts of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana to speak to young girls about how trafficking happens, how it can happen to anyone and why they need to be careful.
I had the incredible opportunity to travel with the program team to see what it is like and how they do it. The district we went to was the East Godavari district, a place that is green and beautiful with lush coconut fields. It is also the district with one of the highest rates of trafficking, so it is even more important to reach these girls. I learned that this state is also a spot for a lot of film shootings, due to its lush greenery, and has seen the rise of junior tv artists as well as film actors. So a common way of trafficking girls has been luring them in with the promise of opportunities in media.
Regardless, the Prajwala team is armed with great videos, personal stories and passionate speakers, who work to grab the attention of these girls and hopefully infuse them with caution. I closely observed girls at 6 schools and hostels. They usually start off with lots of excitement as to them it is just a break from their usual school or hostel routine. But eventually as the context of the video starts to set in, the expressions of these young girls faces change to seriousness, sadness, shock and even disgust, as they digest the journey of innocent girls and how they are forced to transform in the red light districts. While the videos are impactful, easily the best part is the personal account of one of the survivors who was brave enough to recount her personal story. Her story, delivery and bravery were so incredible that I had goosebumps, and I think so did many girls in that audience. After her presentation, we had tons to girls come up to her to shake her hand and thank her for her story. It was a beautiful moment.
The team also invites local press members to attend and hopefully cover it in their local newspaper, so that the news spreads across the district and they have more geographic coverage.
Another incredible program that I got to witness is the Men Against Demand (MAD) awareness program. It involves literally putting a projector in crowded areas such as bus stands and markets, so as to gather the attention of a crowd and do a presentation. The presentation is gripping and requires engaging the crowd with a lot of confidence and passion, as the crowd includes people like rickshaw drivers, drunkards and people who can even become violent. Luckily we had a pretty good crowd with us and it was amazing to see the Prajwala team tackle such sensitive topics so openly.
In Prajwala’s shelter home, child victims of rape, incest, sexual exploitation and trafficking are given the opportunity to regain their lost childhoods, restore their shattered innocence and renew their sense of joy and zeal for what life has to offer. The 91 children in Prajwala’s shelter home are like one big family, caring for one another while professionally-trained staff members provide much-needed love and support that many of these children missed while growing up. The multifaceted psychological, physical, and educational needs of the children are addressed in a sensitive and holistic way to ensure their current and future well-being.
The cases of children which Prajwala’s Support Through Education Program (STEP) has been dealing with amount to the most horrific and atrocious human rights violations. In an unspeakable tragedy, one 4 year old girl who was sleeping in a train station with her mother was abducted by a drunken man who took her to a park where he raped her. Her anus was so torn, her intestine so ruptured that she now has constant uncontrollable bowel movements; the multiple surgeries she has undergone have been unable to repair the damage. Another 5 year old child was tied up, sexually tortured by her neighbor who burnt her genitals. One cannot even imagine the suffering, pain and torture that these children experience.
It is the eternal mission and commitment of Prajwala to ensure that child victims have access to rehabilitation, safety and protection from any and all harm. The organization also recognizes that receiving justice is of utmost significance. Thus all children in the shelter home are produced before the Child Welfare Committee (CWC), and letters of recommendation are submitted on their behalf to the district Collector as well as Superintendent of Police so that they can be granted financial compensation from the Women and Child Welfare department as well as court magistrates as per stipulations in Protection of Children against Sexual Offenses (POCSO) Act.
Based on Prajwala’s determination to provide dignified and sustainable opportunities for children who have experienced the worst kind of exploitation, there have been many successes over the past 3 months which everyone in the shelter has celebrated. To begin, there were 6 children admitted in to the home this period. All child survivors enrolled in mainstream schools received 100% pass marks on their annual exams! One student in intermediate 1st year obtained District 2nd rank and another studying in government school got 1st place out of all students in 10th class! The children also greatly enjoyed exposure trips Lumbini Park and Public Gardens.
In terms of advocacy efforts to advance the anti-trafficking cause, in a landmark judgment based on the recommendations of Prajwala, the Honorable High Court of Andhra Pradesh has directed the State Government to arrange video conferencing facilities to record evidence of sex-trafficked victims. The District Legal Services Authority of each district has been directed to hold this facility in their premises. In addition, in collaboration with legal services, Prajwala filed 1 Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the Supreme court and 3 PIL in different states on rape redressal system, national anti-trafficking law, protection services and victim protection protocol.
Based on the generous contributions of supporters and well-wishers, Prajwala has been able to make an impact not only on the lives of hundreds of victimized and exploited children, but has also promoted substantial changes in the judicial and legal systems of state and national governments to combat human trafficking in all of its dimensions. We wish to extend our deepest gratitude to all of you who have stood by us in solidarity as we break the culture of silence and create a zero tolerance against this crime. Together, we can continue to ignite the flame of hope to bring light to those in despairing circumstances and work towards creating a world free of modern-day slavery.
Child sexual abuse is an endemic crime that destroys the lives of millions worldwide. In January 2014, Prajwala began a new intervention called the Support Through Education Program (STEP) which provides immediate assistance to girls below 18 years who have been subjected to sexual violence such as rape, gang-rape, incest and sex trafficking. Based on cases reported in the media, STEP locates these victims through police stations and invites them to join Prajwala’s therapeutic shelter home, where they are provided long-term rehabilitation, medical treatment, legal aid, nutritious diet, and quality education to ensure safe custody, psychological recovery and a bright future.
A recent case that STEP has dealt with was a 15 year old girl named Kalpana from Mahaboobnagar District (Andhra Pradesh), whose mother expired when she was just a baby and whose father is physically handicapped. For many years, she was engaged in agriculture work and was the sole breadwinner of her family. One day, a man from the village asked a mutual friend for Kalpana’s number, and he started to call frequently to speak with her. Then one evening, he invited her to his room, where she was sexually abused in the presence of two other men who then proceeded to rape her. After 7 months when signs of pregnancy began to show, her relatives filed a complaint against the accused. After reading her case online and searching for her, STEP produced Kalpana under the Child Welfare Committee (CWC) and admitted her into Prajwala’s shelter.
The tragedy is, although Kalpana was very happy to join in the organization, when staff invited her father and relatives to visit on weekends (as well as for the baby’s delivery), they flatly refused any further contact. Instead they announced, “We cannot care for her anymore; she is yours” and left—never to look back. This lack of empathy, understanding or acceptance is faced by so many child victims, who are blamed for their circumstances, shamed for “dishonoring” their community, and denied social support at a time of heartbreakingly critical need.
When a victim of child sexual abuse is alone, isolated, and confused; pregnant, disowned by family, without anywhere to turn... what would happen to her, without an intervention like STEP? One can only imagine the poverty, malnourishment and option-less situation that an uneducated and rejected child like Kalpana would have to face. Without any help, girls in her position are often compelled to enter the depraved world of begging or worse—the exploitation of the flesh trade—just to survive. Prajwala’s STEP is a way for child victims to begin the journey towards healing, self-empowerment, and independence. It is a model that needs to be scaled and replicated nationally, so that girls like Kalpana—who experienced severe physical violations which shattered their innocence at a tender and vulnerable age—can have a childhood full and joy, in a loving and supportive community. So far, STEP has reached out to 13 victims of sexual violence, who are now living in safe custody in the shelter home (along with 78 additional children who are residing there).
Furthermore, on the advocacy front Prajwala has successfully lobbied for the establishment of One Stop Rape Crises Center in Hyderabad. The Chief Secretary of Andhra Pradesh accepted in principle Prajwala’s proposal to establish an exclusive state department to combat trafficking, and the Government of Kerala agreed to Dr. Sunitha Krishnan’s proposal to set up a sex offender’s register. Over 6,000 Rotarians pledged their support to make counter trafficking efforts as their thrust area. On the recommendation of Dr Sunitha Krishnan, the Ministry of North East is setting up a 24-hour National Hotline as a first response center for any person from North East who perceives any risk in another state.
Prajwala's rehabilitative shelter continues to transform the lives of hundreds of adult and child victims of sex trafficking. In our adult home (known as Asha Nikethan), from October to December 2013 there were 54 new admissions of women who were rescued from forced prostitution and referred to the shelter through court order. These victims not only received comprehensive healthcare services, nutritional diet and access to life skills training, but also were provided trauma care and group therapy to help them heal psychologically and emotionally from their painful experiences. The peer counseling program, in which survivors are recruited as "Sakhis" (friends) to provide support to their fellow residents and enhance internal monitoring within the shelter, has proven to be immensely successful. In addition to healing arts practices such as Chekka Bajana and Kollatam dance classes, a new music therapy program in the form of drum beat sessions was initiated to re-connect the women with their inner spiritual rhythm and foster group harmony. Furthermore, in Prajwala's new life-skills center, 90 victims participated in a 25-day jewelry making training course and are in the process of being placed at different venues throughout the country as salespersons, product designers and other roles. Thanks to Prajwala's efforts, 10 victims also received Rs. 10,000/- immediate relief funds from the state government, which will help each of them start a new life that is in no way associated with the flesh trade.
In our children's home (called Astha Nivas), in addition to medical services and treatment for HIV positive victims, all 70 girls are excelling in their education and preparing to mainstream into society. Two of the girls who were rescued from trafficking as children and referred to Prajwala over 10 years ago, recently graduated from intermediate and were admitted into pharmacy and law colleges, where they have completed their half-yearly exams. They are demonstrating that regardless of difficult past circumstances, with hard work and determination even those who were most marginalized and rejected can achieve their dreams. The success of these children has inspired leaders and prominent individuals from India and abroad to replicate and scale Prajwala's anti-trafficking initiatives. For example, over 11 visitors came to the home including representatives from Leger Foundation, OLM, Sanlaap Organization, Kerala Mahila Samakhya Society and the AP state government to learn about our pioneering interventions. Prajwala also makes the effort to restore happy childhoods to children who experienced rape and other forms of sexual violence, by celebrating all national holidays, religious festivals and special occasions through performances, ceremonies and cultural events which are planned and organized by the children themselves. This quarter Ayudapu pooja, Saraswathi pooja, Vijaya Dasami, Bakreed, Moharam and Diwali were celebrated with exuberant joy.
This holiday season we wish to thank with deepest gratitude all of Prajwala's supporters, who have made it possible for children and women in the therapeutic community to gain safety, protection and access to essential services which help them gain a new lease on life, and create their own destiny free of exploitation or oppression. Thank you for your generosity, for believing in our mission to empower and uplift the most vulnerable, and for extending your precious support towards our efforts to end modern day slavery.
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