On 11th October the world will celebrate International Day of the Girl Child. For us at Freedom Firm we celebrate all the little girls we have helped rescue and experience a new life; girls like Anju and Shilu who though abused, dared to be different. It is also the right time to ponder about girls like Meera and Pavi who refused to think differently and are allowing the past to direct their present.

Anju and her father make the trip from MP for Anju’s court hearing

Anju, kidnapped as an 8 year old child, spent the next 7 years of her life being raped several times a day in numerous brothels. She was rescued in March 2021. When summoned to testify more than a year later, she boldly said ‘’DO NOT GRANT BAIL TO HIM (the accused), IF YOU DO, HE WILL EXPLOIT AND SPOIL MANY MORE LIVES AS HE DID TO ME, AND, OTHER SUCH PERPETRATORS WILL ALSO LIVE FEARLESSLY IF IT HAPPENS.’’

Our social worker visits Shilu in school

Shilu was barely 11 years old when she was rescued from a brothel in Dhodar Village in Madhya Pradesh in February 2022. Sold at a young age, little Shilu never went to school or learned how to read and write. Now tasting freedom, she wants it all – school and study. Last month, Shilu was excited to sit for her first ever exam.

Meera was rescued in June 2022, placed in a shelter home and responded positively to our intervention. After a few months in a shelter home, her parents requested custody of their daughter from the Child Welfare Committee and Meera was released into their care. Barely a week of her being home, the trafficker (a man she has fallen in love with) reached out to Meera and declared his “love” again. Meera who was ready to report him to the police has now decided to protect him, after all, according to this 17 year old girl, “He didn’t do anything wrong.” Since Meera is a minor, her parents will report the details Meera shared with them to the police.

Pavi a young widowed mother of a 2 year old daughter from Bangladesh, spent the little money she had to illegally enter India for a fictitious job in a garment factory; as soon as she reached her destination, she was sold to a brothel . Pavi was rescued from the brothel in February 2022. Shortly after her rescue, the brothel keeper, the same woman who lived off Pavi’s earnings in the brothel, helped her escape from the shelter home. Pavi went back to Bangladesh and this time returned to India with her two year old daughter and got back into prostitution. Pavi along with other victims were rescued in a raid conducted by the police in August 2022. Pavi, under duress or of her own accord has filed false complaints against the very people who helped rescue her (our team) and wanted to provide her with new opportunities.

There are some survivors who embrace every opportunity with open arms, run with it and make something new and beautiful of their lives. Then there are those who cannot fathom anything else and keep going back to their old ways even though they are provided with several alternatives. A few are like an elephant that was chained as a calf. Now fully grown, this elephant believes the chain is stronger than him and remains chained; dutifully serving the same masters that enchained him, not aware of his power and strength that can help him break free. We see this behaviour in many victims towards their abusers/traffickers.

Should we then focus only on the Anjus and Shilus? What about the Meeras and Pavis?

We do not see the Meeras and Pavis any differently. We continue to work with them and for them. Even though in feeding, our hand often gets bitten, we still stand in the gap, advocating, finding and fighting for justice. We at Freedom Firm have staff who when their personal freedom was threatened, did not give up but continued to seek justice for victims.

We take this time to celebrate the Anjus and Shilus who dared to dream, and fight for the Meeras and Pavis who need our help to break free from their past that has enslaved them so that they too can dream.

Catherine Raja, National Director Freedom Firm