In 1988, when Ajeet Singh was only 17, he attended a relative’s wedding where he saw a woman dancing. Later he learned that she was a sex worker. Moved by the plight of the family, he adopted the woman’s three children, ending prostitution for the next generation. The children stayed with him for a few years, but then returned to their mother.
But Ajeet did not lose hope. He had then started working in the red-light district of Varanasi to understand the problems of sex workers.
This laid the foundation fora non-profit organization dedicated to combating child prostitution, second generation prostitution and sex trafficking in North India.
“I was exposed to cases of girls/women in the sex trade and was aware of their exploitation by pimps and brothel owners. The first rescue experience was in 1999, after the rescue of three child victims of sexual abuse in Banda, Uttar Pradesh, where the father of the victims was himself the culprit,” says Ajeet. His history.
After that, the first big rescue was in 2005 in the red-light district of Varanasi when Ajeet realized that educational/charity work alone was not enough to prevent sex trafficking and child prostitution, and he had to take the structural roots of prostitution to the fore. on. This first rescue succeeded in freeing forty-nine women and girls, including minors, from different brothels in the red-light district of Varanasi.
“Guria pursued this case and had seven prominent brothel operators convicted until 2016 and the trial of the remaining defendants is still ongoing after 17 years. This head-on collision with the criminal nexus along with the ongoing education and compassionate services provided in the Varanasi Red Zone as part of our end-to-end holistic strategy has made it the first child prostitution-free Red Zone in India,” explains Ajeet.
Ramala, a Nepalese from the red-light district of Varanasi, is one of the women rescued from trafficking. She said, “Mr.i continuously fought for us and now we are much safer from the tyranny of the police, pimps, traffickers, brothel keepers, criminals and others. We were brought as little girls into this hell, but luckily now there are no younger girls in the flesh trade.”
Rescue and rehabilitation in India is a complex process, admits Ajeet.
“Initially, the police deny the crime, delay the rescue and avoid registering the complaints. Often, to get a rescue, we have to go to higher authorities or file legal claims or lobby through a public support.In addition, especially for brothel rescue, we need to conduct reconnaissance operations and collect spy camera evidence of the presence of underage girls in brothels.
After being rescued, the victim is temporarily registered in a foster home and his medical report is filed before a magistrate. Ultimately, the child is released to the family or placed in a foster home depending on the availability of guardians and the consent of the child.
“However, we do not stop at this stage of restoration and additionally provide the victim with free legal aid, witness protection and livelihood support to ensure that the victim obtains justice and a precedent is set. created. To win the case, we must also oppose traffickers’ bail from the district court to the high court and the supreme court, oppose false custody, conduct mock trials, seize brothels, present ourselves as a witness, challenging false protection orders/acquittals, fighting cross-cases against victims or Guria, dealing with threats and attacks, etc. “, he adds.
Sometimes, on instructions from the state, Guria even conducts home verification and counseling for rescued and restored survivors in government foster homes.
According to a study by Guria, about 94% of the missing children belong to lower castes/minority groups, and 53% of the families of these missing children had a monthly income of less than Rs.2,000. They come from marginalized and vulnerable rural areas generally day to day, and their traffic is fueled by their economic and social impoverishment.
The girls are trapped by abduction, threat or use of force, coercion, fraud, deception, abuse of power, etc. Uttar Pradesh has one of the highest rates of emigration, which subtly morphs into sex trafficking, and thus is a source/transit/destination state for human trafficking.
Ajeet says gender inequality, traditions of Bedia and Nut communities, etc., and religious practices like Devdasi continue to push girls into prostitution.
Till date, Guria has rescued and rehabilitated 5,185 people slavery, including commercial sexual exploitation in brothels and debt bondage.
Life after rehabilitation
Guria faces a number of challenges during the pre-rescue, rescue and rehabilitation phases.
Notwithstanding the provisions of the law, guidelines and Supreme Court directives, Neha, education center coordinator, Guria, points out that the police refuse to press charges in cases related to rape and sex trafficking, and therefore the complainant is forced to file a complaint through court orders – but errant police officers get away with it.
Also, despite the information given by the parents of the victims/Guria/victims on the confinement of other minor girls in brothels, the authorities responsible for the rescue of these victims neglect the recovery of these victims and are abusive or aggressive.
Almost negligible action has been taken by the police in attacks against human rights defenders. There are 24 attacks reported against the Guria India team, especially against Ajeet. These are just a few of the many other challenges encountered during rescue and rehabilitation.
Despite this, Guria has been involved/appointed in important government committees including member of Central Nodal Anti-Trafficking Agency – Government of India; the State Advisory Council, Government of Uttar Pradesh, on the Effective Implementation, Evaluation and Advice of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act 2000 and the of 2012 on the protection of children from sexual offences; the Government of India’s inter-ministerial committee to develop comprehensive legislation on various aspects of human trafficking, and others.
She also draws attention to the fact that Guria is still struggling with the authorities/police on the ground during implementation due to widespread corruption and impunity.
Neha explains that most of the girls have returned to their families despite the social stigma that arises during rehabilitation and reintegration.
“The girls are happier since being rescued from slavery. Wherever possible, taking into account the condition of the family, we also provided livelihood support, which supported the existing activities of the victim families (goat farming, animal husbandry, poultry, teahouse , general store, egg and vegetable vendor) or helped them start new small businesses or take government/private/freelance jobs (army, navy, government teacher, customs officer, lawyer, manager, social worker, florist , train ticket controller, accountant) and vocational training and we also helped the victim’s family apply for government compensation,” she says.
Karni, who has received livelihood and witness protection support from Guria, says: “It is now safe thanks to the relocation of my residence and the fortification of my doors and windows. I am no longer afraid and I will certainly fight in court for all that I have suffered and my parents have been beaten.
Interventions and after
Guria’s sustained efforts have resulted in many interventions and changes. A few of them include – India’s first sustainable Child Prostitution Free Zone in the Red Light Zone in Varanasi – ratified by the International Mother Teresa Prize for Social Justice in 2019.
He also created India’s first-ever cultural group of 30 female prostitutes who perform traditional music and dance as a means of raising awareness and dignity, including generating income for the performers. They have performed at prestigious venues across India including the World Social Forum
He launched a Freedom Now global awareness campaign against human trafficking in more than 20 countries. Guria has also set up a 42,000 strong rural women’s organization to prevent human trafficking in high-risk areas.
Guria, in collaboration with GiveIndia, is currently fundraising to free women and children from the sex trade.
“While most of GiveIndia’s support so far has gone into legal labor and nutrition for children in the red-light district education center, Give India has also helped us with ration distribution, education in villages and support for livelihoods. Overall, we are pleased that this form of crowdfunding efforts expands our reach in the community and promotes sustainability, which would maintain Guria’s position to raise issues hard on the state, which is responsible for preventing sex trafficking and child prostitution,” says Ajeet.
Speaking of fundraising, Priyanka Prakash, Director, Head – Donations and Online Marketing, GiveIndia, said, “GiveIndia champions the rights of vulnerable people, and we are happy to join Guria in their noble cause. The GiveIndia fundraiser is an effort to increase Guria’s ability to work more vigorously. We can all do our part by donating generously to the fundraiser.
Ajeet wants to continue working and replicating Guria’s successful end-to-end holistic strategy which achieved India’s first child prostitution free red zone in Varanasi, possibly the biggest conviction of 41 traffickers/brothel keepers in a single case of sex trafficking. in Allahabad, overall rescue of 5185 people from slavery, 805 bail denials, 260 brothel seizures, 122 total convictions, conversion of local level interventions to 14 PILs and 2 High Court indictments/ Supreme Court, witness protection for 321 survivors, and more.
“The only criteria that we follow that has to seep in is ‘lives have to change,'” he says.