It seems like every other day we see horror stories on Facebook about possible attempted child abductions in Target or Ikea. But human trafficking and sexual violence are ever-present dangers in India. The authorities have done little to combat them, so women have taken matters into their own hands. Just this month, a new initiative seeking to empower survivors of human trafficking to make their own justice opened its doors in India.
“Becoming a lawyer is my dream, and bringing justice to those responsible for forced child prostitution is my goal,” Lata said. “I want to punish the men who did this to me.” The school is the result of a partnership between Free A Girl Movement, an international organization that works to free girls from sex trafficking, and one of the top law schools in India. During their studies, the women will live at the law school, the name of which remains undisclosed due to security concerns.
Lata was married at 16 and sold to a brothel by her husband two months later. Her story is hardly unique. The UN estimates that there are 3 million sex workers in India, and 40 percent of those are trafficked children — generally minorities or from lower castes. The School for Justice estimates there to be 1.2 million children exploited as prostitutes in India, and in 2015 only 55 child trafficking cases led to convictions.
A child of rape asks “Why?”
The Free A Girl Movement aims to break this cycle by training survivors to be lawyers. The girls will live at the school during the 5- to 6-year process, and will graduate with law degrees that have a special emphasis on commercial sexual exploitation.
This school is yet another manifestation of Indian women’s determination to fight back against the oppression and violence that the world seems to be ignoring. Two years ago, in the wake of a spate of horrific gang rapes, two female students invented a pair of anti-rape pants implanted with a small electronic button that sends a distress signal to the nearest police station when pressed. Since then, countless anti-rape products — from apps that pin safe spots, to anti-rape underwear that delivers an electric shock — have been developed to protect Indian women from the imminent threat of sexual violence.
I know the abduction scare-stories that circulate on social media are genuinely frightening. I have little kids — I can relate. I even re-posted one myself! But genuine child trafficking is uncommon in our country. And most of us don’t have to weigh the need of going to the store to get milk against the probability of getting raped, or create hidden schools to educate female lawyers.
These Indian women who are fighting back are heroes. They’re tackling a systemic enshrinement of violence and misogyny with courage and creativity, despite the deafening silence of the world around them.
Let’s break that silence, and let our sisters in India know that we stand with them and that they are not alone.
Click to meet the other survivors in the School for Justice’s inaugural class and learn how you can help.
The Free a Girl Movement site tells more about their work in India. You can also read about their work in other countries, including their project in Brazil that focuses on providing pregnant women with pre- and post-natal care.