“Despite the stigma attached to sex trafficking survivors they decided to stand up.”
20,000 Indian women and children are sold into modern slavery every year.
That means that over 50 women and children are bought and sold every day – they are made into commodities.
But what if each of those survivors of this social injustice could become an advocate against it?
This was the exact aim of a new school, the School for Justice, that opened in April of this year. The School for Justice helps survivors of trafficking prepare for law school.
According to UNICEF, more than 21 million people are victims of human trafficking worldwide, the vast majority of which are women and girls. To help combat this, the School for Justice is a pioneer program that helps female survivors with not only their basic needs but ultimately to enter the workforce as lawyers.
This program in India began with 19 students and was started by an organisation called the Free a Girl Movement. According to the Free a Girl Movement founder, Evelien Hölsken, the orgranisation plans to open more schools in Brazil and elsewhere in the world. The goals of the movement are to raise awareness about child sex trafficking and the rescue and rehabilitate former victims.
Women and girls who are victims of trafficking are often scarred for life and are held back from education and employment opportunities. Victims are often stigmatised and it is estimated that this trend is increasing, according to Reuters.
The School for Justice website indicates that in India alone there are an estimated 1.2 million underaged working in brothels, which is the highest number in the world. But in 2015, there were only 55 convictions for sex trafficking.
Hölsken felt compelled to start the School for Justice because of this culture of impunity.
“In India, people involved in child prostitution, including traffickers, brothel owners, pimps and customers are rarely punished,” Hölsken wrote in an email to Global Citizen. “To put an end to this injustice and to take the offenders off the streets, we launched the School for Justice.”
According to Hölsken, when the school opened in April, there were 19 members who were all female. The organisation collaborates with local NGO partners in India, which include Sanlaap, Freedom Firm, Transforming Lives Foundation, Equal Community Foundation, and Odanadi, to rescue girls from brothels. These organisations mostly work in large cities like Kolkata, Mumbai, and Bangalore.
According to the Huffington Post, once the girls are rescued from brothels they are then housed in a shared dorm that is in an undisclosed location for their safety and protection.
As described on the Free a Girl’s website, the initiative is completely crowdfunded. The HuffPost has reported that non-profit donors in the Netherlands, like the AFAS Foundation, have donated enough funding for the next two years.
For the room board, extra tutoring, exam costs, and course materials, it costs approximately $3,400 per student per year according to HuffPost. According to the School for Justice’s site, the program prepares students to enter one of the best law universities in India” and later “will lobby the government to give them a chance to become public prosecutors.”
The School for Justice is still in its beginning stages and, according to Siddharth Kara, the director of Harvard’s Program on Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery, addressing and stoping the problem of sex trafficking in South Asia will require a radical shift in India’s criminal justice system as well since trafficking is a deeply entrenched issue in this region.
“As a first step this is a very commendable and promising idea,” Kara told Global Citizen when talking about the School for Justice. “There are very few people who want to stand up for the rights of former slaves in South Asia.”
But, he added, “the laws aren’t there to pursue justice in an equitable way for survivors.”
India’s sexual assault laws were last updated in 2013, after a fatal gang rape on a bus in Delhi in December of 2012. The new law criminalized stalking, voyeurism, and sexual harassment, and instituted the death penalty for fatal rapes.
“The implementation remains the larger challenge,” Ranjana Kumari, a women’s activist and director of the Centre for Social Research, told the Guardian.
Other offenses, such as marital rape, are not addressed at all by the law.
Upon graduation from the School for Justice in India, the students will be charged with the arduous task of changing laws and helping to ensure that existing legislation is actually implemented.
“Despite the stigma attached to sex trafficking survivors they decided to stand up and share their story in the hope that it will change the system,” Hölsken wrote. “These 19 girls might not change the system themselves, but their story has reached many people all over the world and hopefully it will inspire others to support them.”
Originally Published: Global Citizen