MUMBAI /// Ishika never thought that being sold by her parents to a brothel in Kolkata at the age of six would inspire her to pursue a career in one of the most prestigious professions - law.
But after being rescued from sexual slavery, Ishika, now 24, has spent more than a decade trying to get justice against traffickers. Despite the drawn-out case, she has not given up hope of seeing her abusers behind bars.
“I will become a lawyer and take up cases of trafficking victims and fight them effectively,” said Ishika, one of nearly 20 sex trafficking survivors who will study law under a programme launched by an anti-trafficking charity on Thursday.
“I was rescued 13 years ago but my case is still going on,” said Ishika.
“I often feel I am the accused and not the victim. I do not want other trafficking victims to go through this.”
Of an estimated 20 million commercial sex workers in India, 16 million women and girls are victims of sex trafficking, according to campaigners. But fewer than two in five trafficking cases end in a conviction.
The US state department said in its 2016 Trafficking in Persons report that investigations, prosecutions and convictions for human trafficking were low in India even though the government has stepped up its law enforcement efforts.
Free A Girl Movement said under its School for Justice programme, young women who had been trafficked for sex as children would be guided through the college admission process and their education and other expenses covered.
“It is a long-term programme to empower sex trafficking survivors and help them become public prosecutors in the future so that they take up cases of child trafficking and child prostitution,” said the charity’s spokesman, Francis Gracias.
Campaigners said prosecutors representing rescued victims are often unable to connect with their plight or help them to sufficiently express themselves in court - which weakens the case and often results in acquittals.
“Rescued girls do not understand the legalities of the case such as what sections of the law were applied and why,” said Tapoti Bhowmick of charity Sanlaap, which helps rescued girls like Ishika complete their school education.
“They (rescued girls) can represent cases of trafficking better in court as they have themselves suffered the pain and trauma it causes,” Ms Bhowmick said.
Ishika has already started studying English, mathematics and other subjects in preparation for the entrance exam to a law college, which she hopes will one day help her win her case.
“The brothel madam and my trafficker have remained free all these years that I have spent at a shelter home. I want traffickers to fear law, and me,” she said.
* Thomson Reuters Foundation