In our work to end the sexual exploitation of minor girls in Nagpur City, the resistance to rescue and rehabilitation of minors has been intense. Out of the first 100 girls FF rescued in Nagpur, only 1 said she did not want to do this profession. Regardless of age, the Child Welfare Committee (CWC) and District Courts ordered release 99 times. Out of those girls, around a dozen of them were cases of re-rescue. With each girl who would come to the shelter home, our aftercare team would meet them on a daily basis. They felt discouraged to see another girl released and it was painful to know she might be going back to the red light area. To some extent girls are still being released today, but we are starting to see a glimmer of hope.

Sajini* was rescued 3 times; the 2nd and 3rd time by Freedom Firm. She was then transferred to the Mumbai shelter home. She was just 14 years old. We submitted endless letters to the Mumbai Child Welfare Committee (CWC) warning them of the risk of re-trafficking. She had been rescued 3 times! A woman kept taking custody of her claiming to be her mother. But she wasn’t. She was just a trafficker. This gave an opening for her family to come and claim custody. But were they actually the real parents? And why after all this time were they trying to have Sajini back? Where were they all those times we rescued her in Nagpur? We felt defeated again when Sajini was released from Mumbai. But then we went to her village in 2014 twice, and both times she was at home. Social workers from Freedom Firm went again early this year and found she was married. She is still a minor and her husband is almost twice her age, but in her culture that is accepted. He has a master’s degree and she seems happy. Sajini is also 7 months pregnant. She was thrilled to see the same faces come to meet her again. She invited them to her new house. She said, “I’m so happy with this life.” She also confided that “there are many girls in Ganga Jamuna ( the red-light district in Nagpur)  like me, forced to do prostitution, but they don’t share the truth.”

Reshma* was rescued late last year. Her case was 2nd in a series of 5 which put a twist on our efforts to stop the release of minors. After we brought a complaint against the Child Welfare Committee for their part in releasing girls, they stopped. But then all of a sudden, cases of minor girls stopped being transferred to the CWC as is legally mandated. She was then released by the District Court based on a school document showing her to be major. It was a fake and we later proved it but she was already gone. But Reshma is from the same state as Sajini, so our follow up work took us there. And sure enough she was also at home. Just 15-16 years old, she is a kid. She was working in her grandmother’s house helping with the daily chores. She saw our team and hugged the social worker. She is taking care of her 2 sisters and 3 brothers. She has to look after the family because her mother passed away shortly after getting Reshma released. For right now, she is where she belongs.

Freedom Firm rescued Sita* twice in the same year. The Child Welfare Committee used a new tactic to “transfer” Sita to her home state CWC. We objected, the Court issued a stay on the transfer, but the staff at the Nagpur shelter home sent her. As we suspected, she was released within 2 days. Back in Nagpur, the Court passed orders nullifying the transfer as illegal but Sita was already transferred. Sita was one of the first girls that we found at home. In late 2014, our team visited and found that the police had been called to Sita’s house when a truck of men came to take her. She called our social workers a few weeks later saying they were going to retraffick her. Later she recanted saying she made that up during a fight with her sister. The CWC has stayed involved with the family, and currently Sita is staying at her uncle’s house. The situation at her home, with her father’s debt, and with men who want to collect money from him has made it unsafe for her and her 12 year old sister.

Within days of Sita’s “transfer,” the same thing happened to Sonu*. This was the second violation of the courts directives and done only because Sonu was “troublesome” to the shelter home staff. We felt discouraged to see another girl go. It seemed the laws were meaningless and even authority figures were powerless if the force for release pushed hard enough. Rehabilitation and the welfare of a child did not seem to factor into anyone’s conscience. But, when we went to Sonu’s home, she was there. She is with her mother. The family is searching for a match for her marriage. She seems content.

I was present the second time our team rescued Priya Dhanawat*. She is a very attractive young girl. But, in the police station, she seemed bored. It was as if she knew her rescue was just a distraction, a part of her life. She wasn’t bothered by it. She was then released within a very fast 2 months. With her beauty and the efforts that went into her release, I thought for sure she would be found again in Ganga Jamuna. But she wasn’t there. And at first when our team went to her home, she wasn’t there either. But her older sister was. Rekha* was dressed so well and looking so nice that Asha, our social worker didn’t recognize her. But Rekha saw her in the village and came to her immediately. She cried and held Asha’s hand for a long time. Asha says by her face she could tell she wanted to speak, but didn’t have the freedom with the crowds observing the team of social workers and police who had come from outside. She said Priya was also there; she had gone to the market. A short time after Asha left, she got a call from Priya. She had returned and wanted Asha to meet her. By then Asha was too far, but she promised to come again.

The fact that Sajini, Reshma,  Sita,  Sonu, Priya and Rekha are not in a red light area in Maharasthra but rather in their villages in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh is a sign of progress. It demonstrates a change from what our teams found in the villages during the first couple of years of follow up visits. The message has gone out that Freedom Firm knows the girls in Ganga Jamuna. And we know them personally. And with that kind of attention, it is difficult for them to be put out on the road in Ganga Jamuna. And that is very likely the reason they are returning home.

*Names changed to protect identity