I recently visited Prajwala (www.prajwala.com), an NGO that is dedicated to combating sex trafficking and caring for its victims. Trafficking, the modern day equivalent of slavery, is one of the issues that American diplomats focus on throughout the world. It’s a global problem affecting as many as 27 million people at any given time, including millions of Indians subjected to forced labor, bonded labor and commercial sexual exploitation.
My visit to Prajwala’s office and some of its facilities gave me a much deeper understanding of the evil effects of sex trafficking. Evil is not the kind of word I use as a diplomat, but after meeting victims at a Prajwala center, I’m not going to pretend that I’m a dispassionate observer. Prajwala engages in a full range of activities, including advocacy and efforts at trafficking prevention, but the major focus of its work is on rescuing and rehabilitating women and girls who are victims of sex trafficking. Not only does sex trafficking involve injury and abuse, it robs its victims of their own sense of humanity, and wipes out their comprehension of what normal human interactions are like. Prajwala patiently works with victims to restore their sense of self worth and self control. It was wonderful for me to see the pride women working in Prajwala’s workshops felt in their skills.
At a sheltered school it was very moving to see how children who were victims of sex trafficking (some as young as 3-years-old) could recover the ability to act as children, and work toward reintegration into normal schools. But it was also clear that not everyone recovers. I met some children who were rescued years ago, but suffered physical or psychological injury so great that they will never be “normal” again. Meeting them was heartbreaking, and I know that what happened to them can only be called evil.
Dr. Sunitha Krishnan, one of Prajwala’s founders, was my briefer and guide on Monday. She has received numerous accolades, including being recognized as an anti-trafficking in person’s hero by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2009. While I’m amazed and humbled by her dedication and her effectiveness, I think every one of the employees and volunteers I met is also a hero. Not only do they tirelessly restore hope to the hopeless, they also suffer assaults and insults from mafia members and traffickers seeking to undermine Prajwala’s efforts.
The other thing that struck me about Prajwala was how well it worked in partnership with others. Prajwala works closely with the police to locate and rescue victims. It works with government agencies to provide services to victims. It works with the private sector to identify vocational opportunities for rehabilitated victims. And Prajwala provides training and advice to other organizations seeking to provide similar services. Partnership increases Prajwala’s effectiveness and magnifies its impact. A video of a presentation Dr. Krishnan gave in Mysore can be viewed at http://www.ted.com/talks/sunitha_krishnan_tedindia.html
Praheen, one of the little girls she talks about, was one of the damaged children who broke my heart on Monday. You’ll know what I mean if you hear her story.
On March 28, Prajwala launched a campaign called “Men Against Demand” to fight trafficking by reducing demand for prostitution. Men interested in pledging to stop buying sex and to support the human dignity of women can sign the pledge at http://www.change.org/petitions/pledge-to-be-a-man-against-demand-for-prostitution