Child prostitution charity wins Mother Teresa award

Thumbnail school for justice sinaj khatoon 1 (1)

Free a Girl has helped 4,500 young women escape from forced sex work in India. 

18th November 2019 by Gavin Stuart 0 Comments

A charity which helps victims of child prostitution put their traffickers behind bars has won a prestigious Mother Teresa award.

Free a Girl was recognised for its groundbreaking School for Justice initiative in India, which has supported 4,500 girls and young women since 2008.

The programme helps young women who are rescued from forced prostitution - often after being trafficked into sex work - and trains them to become lawyers, journalists, social workers and police officers so they can change the system from within.

As well as putting perpetrators behind bars, the charity also raises awareness about child sexual exploitation in India.

The problem of underage girls being forced into sex work is endemic across the country, but the charity says it is rarely tackled as victims are too terrified or ashamed to inform the authorities.

As a result, the perpetrators of sexual exploitation and those involved in child prostitution in India – often conducted from secret brothels - continue their practices with impunity.

Sinaj Khatoon, 31, is currently in her third year studying law through the School for Justice programme, and accepted the Mother Teresa Award at a ceremony in Mumbai on Sunday.

Sinaj was trafficked into sex work aged 17 after being tricked into thinking she was going for a job interview for a government position. Instead, she was forced into prostitution and raped by a man who abused her with his friends. 

She said: “Instead of my final interview, I was raped for 20 days by my interviewer and passed around to his friends. When I resisted, a fake marriage was arranged and I was subjected to further abuse.

“On threatening to approach the police, they released me and I went back to my family, only to find my father and brother dead. When I approached my brother-in-law for help, my sister was subjected to domestic violence. I decided to stay silent.  

“I have no money of my own. But now, thanks to Free a Girl’s School for Justice, once I have my degree, I’ll fight for justice for myself and all other survivors of sexual exploitation. I’m going to put the perpetrators behind bars.” 

Evelien Hölsken, the charity’s co-founder and CEO, added: “It’s estimated that every year in India 1.2 million underage children are sexually exploited. On average only 50 cases against the offenders lead to an actual conviction. This is why we founded the School for Justice.

“Receiving this award goes to show that this problem is finally being acknowledged, both in and outside of India. It means that our work, as well as the girls who are still being held captive in brothels, are in the public eye.”