My Choices Foundation dedicated to eliminate sex trafficking in India
Across the world, millions of women and girls live in the long shadows of human trafficking. Whether ensnared by force, coercion, or deception, they live in limbo, in fear, in pain. It is estimated that of the 15 million women that are victims of sex trafficking in India each year, 40% are adolescents and children. 200,000 Indian children are sold into slavery each year, many by their parents who don't know better. Every few minutes a girl is sold into sex slavery. Poor village girls are typically targeted, with promises of schooling, jobs, or marriage. The average age of these girls is 12. Girls as young as 6 years old are trafficked for sexual exploitation. Only 1% of them are ever rescued. The road to rehabilitation, if she is rescued, is extremely difficult. Yet, there are very few NGOs working to prevent this from happening.
Thanks to My Choices Foundation (MCF), a locally rooted campaign and services network that is dedicated to eliminating sex trafficking in India, with vast experience in programming with the local context throughout India. These are the stories of three survivors. Their stories are testament to their incredible resilience and point toward the urgency for action to prosecute perpetrators and support survivors along their journeys to restore dignity, health, and hope.
Aarohi finds herself and her future
Aarohi could not bring herself to talk about what happened to her when MCF’s Lotus Safe Home social worker met her. She was dressed as a boy and refused to identify herself as a girl due to the constant fear of abuse. Her eyes were filled with fear and her scars ran deep – she was constantly sexually abused and molested by her family members. She was too young to understand the complexity of the kind of violence when she experienced it for the first time. She felt utterly powerless and the constant abuse forced her to run away from home. Police found her at the railway station one early morning and approached MCF for help.
Her journey of recovery at MCF’s Safe Home was long and challenging. After concerted efforts from their counsellors, she opened up. Coping mechanisms taught during the counselling sessions helped her to come out of the garb as a boy. She felt liberated to be called a young girl. After consistent and intensive counselling sessions, she cried relentlessly and began to talk. She started to express herself through art. But the deep-rooted cultural, societal and gender norms made her feel unclean. To build her self-worth and self-esteem, MCF adopted several interventions such as Guidance worksheets to understand self-worth
Healthy emotional expressions, Sessions on safe and unsafe touch, Awareness Generation of Laws against child abuse, overcoming trauma and strengthening mental health, Currency notes activity (INR 100 note doesn’t lose its value though it is crushed and similarly, her value hasn’t changed or diminished because of the abuse).
As a result of all these interventions, Aarohi boldly testified against her family to get the justice she deserves. She continues to outpour her emotions through creative expression but with bold and bright colors. She still receives counselling and finds MCF’s Safe Home as a safe space where she is heard and felt.
Shobha’s decision for a better future
15-year-old Shobha loves to study and says, “It makes me so happy and is a way for a better life”. She works hard to ace her board exams now. Without MCF’s help, she would have resorted to prostitution out of desperation to support her family.
Born in a poor background, Shobha’s parents struggled hard to put food on the table. They made INR 100 per day as daily labourers, taking up random jobs that came their way. It did not deter Shobha. She was determined to go to school, study hard and become a respected professional in the future. Unexpectedly, one day her father fell ill and couldn’t go to work any longer. Her mother’s earnings were barely enough to get through a day and her father’s medical expenses began to mount up. Village leaders and religious practitioners advised Shobha to be dedicated to the temple – the prevalence of the ancient Devadasi system still exists in some parts of India. It is an oppressive practice of young girls and women being regarded as temple property and sexually exploited. With no knowledge about the consequences, Shobha agreed.
In 2019, MCF organised the Safe Village Program, a two-day program for educating and empowering communities about sex trafficking. Their Implementing Partner on the ground heard about Shobha’s situation from one of the villagers. He reported this to Operation Red Alert (the Anti-trafficking arm of My Choices Foundation) and immediately intervened.
Experiences from the field
“I have seen many situations where girls were taken away mysteriously from my village over the years” – these are the words of a mother who attended MCF’s Safe Village Program in one of the eastern states in India.
Vivian Isaac, Program Director of MCF’s anti-trafficking arm, Operation Red Alert was shaken up as well as moved to hear those words. This was a stark reminder of the importance of the Safe Village Program and this is why the Safe Village Program exists - to prevent any girl from disappearing from her home, but so many women are afraid to raise their voice in instances like these.
Reflecting on the experience, Vivian shared: “As I narrated an awareness play using our communicative tool, Flipchart, to a group of women during the Safe Village Program, I noticed that one of the women broke into tears. I fought back the urge to ask her the reason to avoid any discomfort to her. After we completed our session, she invited us to her house for a cup of tea. I was happy and it was an opportunity for me to start a dialogue. There weren’t too many people around us and so I took the opportunity to ask her the reason why she was crying during the narration of the play. Her response was quite disheartening. She said that she has seen many situations where girls were taken away mysteriously from her village over the years.”
More often than not, women like the one Vivian encountered are saddened by what happens to their community girls who are trafficked. But they neither have the tools nor the knowledge to reach out for help. In addition to this, they are terrified and frightened of the possible consequences for their families and their own lives. This incident highlights the importance of the work done by Operation Red Alert of MCF. Lack of awareness about the issue of sex trafficking and redressal mechanisms leads to people being trapped in vulnerable situations.
Through MCF’s work in communities that have high rates of trafficking or are at the risk of being trafficked, it empowers people by creating awareness about sex trafficking providing tools like Helpline to access to report instances of trafficking.
Disclaimer: images are only for representation purposes*