How Freedom Firm aims to end sex trafficking of minor girls in India
India has about three million commercial sex workers. Of this, an estimated 40 percent are children. Many young girls between 8-17 years — from the poorest social sectors — are pulled out of school, forced to abandon their childhood, and step into adulthood — threatened, starved, and raped — to make them the breadwinners and supplement their impoverished family’s income.
As a result, they would be sent for prostitution or sold to brothels.
Since 2006, anti-sex trafficking NGO Freedom Firm has been rescuing these girls from the red light areas across India. Besides, the NGO is helping them restore their lives and seek justice for victims and survivors.
Children and minors in Madhya Pradesh. Picture: Freedom Firm
How does it operate
Freedom Firm has offices in Pune, Nagpur, Ratlam, Allahabad, and Kolkata. As the first step, the NGO's investigators check the red light areas in and around these cities and other locations to check if they can find minors forced into prostitution.
Based on the leads received, the team locate minor girls in brothels and document the crime. This information is reported to the police, who, along with the Freedom Firm team, raid the brothels, rescue the girls, and arrest the brothel keepers and traffickers.
A red light area in Pune. Picture: Freedom Firm
First, these girls are taken to the police to file an FIR against their oppressors. Then, they are placed in government remand homes or shelter homes.
Once they are safe, the Freedom Firm team counsels them, conducts life skills sessions, and vocational training with them.
“Restoration is the key process. Most of them might not have gone to school or they might have been pulled out. We have designed a curriculum with them and start with the basics — literacy, hygiene, time management, conflict management, etc.,” says Jacqueline Olivia, Associate Director of Communications and Development, Freedom Firm.
She adds, “If they want to go back to school, we speak to the child committee and get them enrolled in a school nearby. For those who want to sit for their board examinations, we also provide extra coaching.”
The Freedom Firm social workers work in partnership with shelter homes across India to provide rescued girls with counselling, therapy, job training, education and health care assistance, life skills training, and employment opportunities to help the girls grow their confidence and become independent.
A social worker teaching survivors how to make headbands
At present, Freedom Firm conducts restoration programmes at 11 shelter homes.
The NGO helps girls learn how to deal with their emotions, feelings, conflict, manage their time, budget, run a household, etc. It also provides vocational training in jewellery design, making jute bags, handmade cards and stoles, tailoring, making phenyl, room fresheners, liquid hand wash, cakes, chocolates, and perfumed candles.
Freedom Firm conducted virtual sessions amidst the COVID-19 pandemic as it was important to keep their connection with the girls as they also needed a lifeline.
Once the social workers investigate and find it safe to send the girls home, the shelter homes would do so.
“It is heart-wrenching to know that in many cases it’s their own families who sent them to prostitution. The pandemic and months of lockdown have worsened an already bleak situation — desperate parents are selling minor children to traffickers who auction them off to brothels across India,” says Jacqueline.
Once the girls are restored to their homes, social workers frequently do follow-up visits and conduct home investigations to ensure safe reintegration — they are faring well, gainfully employed, and, if required, provide medical assistance, connect them with employment opportunities, and organise skill development training.
A social worker visits a survivor's home with a police escort
In the final phase, Freedom Firm actively pursues the conviction of those responsible for trafficking minor girls. The NGO’s lawyers assist public prosecutors at each stage of the criminal trial.
Moreover, rescued girls are empowered to testify against their abusers, bringing them to justice. Every trial and every conviction creates a deterrent and raises the cost of sex trafficking in India.
Freedom Firm in partnership with other NGOs and local authorities has rescued over 800 women and children till now.
Additionally, it has impacted over 3,000 women and children from the community through its restoration programmes, vocational training, adventure camps, and community programmes.
Chocolate making workshop at a shelter home in Pune
It has helped in convicting about 11 people for sex trafficking.
The NGO has also tied up with a Coonoor-based college near Ooty to raise awareness on sex trafficking, child sexual abuse, the dangers of the internet, etc.
“A lot of girls feel that it will not happen to them. But the truth is this can happen to anyone. Hence, the awareness part is extremely important in making them understand the risks in life,” adds Jacqueline.
The organisation largely receives funds from individual funds, fundraising platforms, and auctions. It is, however, in the process of getting into corporate partnerships to arrange funds.
Freedom Firm’s mission is to re-integrate the girls and women into society with confidence and skills to live wholesome and productive lives while earning a good income for themselves and their families.