Sunitha Krishnan’s Prajwala completed its 25 glorious years
Sex trafficking as well as human trafficking is one of the oldest crimes of the world and is at present a $150 billion industry annually.
In India, 16 million women are victims of sex trafficking in a year. Most often the victims are illiterate and belong to very poor families. Forced into the trade of prostitution, they are again exploited with low wages, harassment, and torture by traffickers, customers, and society with reduced life expectancy.
Commercial Sexual Exploitation (CSE) or sex trafficking is a ‘rape for profit’ trade, in which victims are kidnapped, coerced, deceived, transported, or detained for the purpose of being sexually exploited for commercial gains. This heinous crime denies millions of women and girls their basic rights to liberty and education and causes serious health problems.
Standing upon five pillars of prevention, rescue, rehabilitation, reintegration, and advocacy, Prajwala is a pioneering anti-trafficking organization working on the issue of sex trafficking and sex crime.
Prajwala (eternal fire) began as a rehabilitation center in a converted brothel in Hyderabad. The organization extends moral, financial, legal, and social support to victims of trafficking and ensures that perpetrators are brought to justice. In its 25 years of journey, the NGO has assisted the police in rescuing more than 24,000 women and girls from sexual exploitation and facilitated their journey for recovery. The organization has also helped rehabilitate a total of 14,800 women.
Sex trafficking is a criminal offense under Article 23 of the Constitution of India. If the victims are minor, perpetrators can also be tried under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012. Irrespective of the laws, sex trafficking is on the rise in this country.
Prajwala is working in this sector for more than the last two decades to end sex crime. Founded by Sunitha Krishnan and Jose Vetticatil in 1996, the organization now has a 300-strong team and has educated over 8,000 children who are the children of prostitutes, children of vulnerable communities, and children at risk of being trafficked.
To add to that, Prajwala’s community-based education program has influenced millions of people in gender relations. The organization’s grassroots rescue work that is strengthened by the Rape Victim Support Programme (RVSP) provides a framework, so that the police, the courts, and activists can coordinate to rescue victims of trafficking. In its 25 years of glorious journey, Prajwala has been successful in setting up several milestones by rescuing, rehabilitating, and directing the victims to a normal flow of life.
In 2015, because of the NGO’s efforts, a PIL (56/2004) filed in the Supreme Court of India enabled government to issue comprehensive anti-trafficking guidelines for the entire nation. Its Plastic Toy making unit set up in 1997 is considered as the first economic empowerment of the women rescued from forced prostitution.
During the beginning of this century, Prajwala set up its first Safe Home for Adults at Engine Bowl and started expanding its transition centers. At the request of the Government of Andhra Pradesh, this organization pioneered setting up of Voluntary Counselling & Testing Centers (VCTC) for Andhra Pradesh AIDS Control Society in 2002; 1500 HIV Counsellors were recruited, trained, and deputed to the VCTCs as a result of this effort.
As a new innovation in prevention, 11 drop-in centers in red-light areas were set up and used as the learning centers for the children. To add to that, the corporate social partnership was explored to provide employment opportunities for the survivors.
The first corporate partner of the NGO – Amul India Action Research “The Shattered Innocence” paved the way for an Anti-Trafficking Policy (GO MS 01/2003) in Andhra Pradesh and a state-wide campaign was initiated targeting adolescent girls. In the same year, Prevention programs expanded to sensitization efforts, and Anti-Trafficking Program was set up. First Crises Counselling Center with Police Department was established at Afzalgunj Police Station and the first docu-fiction “Of Freedom & Fear”/SwechaKani on HIV/AIDS was released.
In 2004, the organization felt a need to establish an economic unit that was viable and sustainable with non-conventional trades for women. At the same time, Economic Rehabilitation Unit with printing, welding, and carpentry was also established at Falaknuma and a number of documentary films on sex trafficking were also released this year. Nine more Corporate Companies joined the mission to provide employment opportunities to survivors in 2009 and the government-appointed ‘Prajwala’ as the state nodal agency for economic empowerment of survivors.
In the year 2016, Prajwala introduced “Swaraksha,” a community awakening caravan to counter trafficking in Telangana, Odisha & Andhra Pradesh. Later in 2017, the organization Joined hands with Nobel Laureate Kailash Satyarthi for Bharat Yatra, a nationwide movement for Safe India.
The NGO and the films made by it have received several international, national, and state awards and accolades. Krishnan has been awarded the fourth highest civilian honor, the Padma Shree, in 2016 by the Government of India. “We will continue to fight for a safe world for our women and children having complete faith in your trust and solidarity. Together we will end sex slavery across the Globe!” Krishnan shows her firm belief on the home page of her brainchild, Prajwala.