Anti-Trafficking Activist Sunitha Krishnan breaks the silence on sex slavery in India

By: Lakshine Sathiyanathan

Sunitha Krishnan speaks against silence on the sex trade. Image courtesy of TED Blog.

It begins as a promise for a better life.

Children as young as five years old are forced into prostitution and sold into a life worse than they had lived before. Estimates of the number of young children sold for sex globally go up to 1.2 million annually.

“No one should tolerate trafficking, no child, no woman deserves it,” said Sunitha Krishnan, co-founder of Prajwala to ABC News.

Krishnan has spent years rescuing and rehabilitating trafficked women and children.

At 15, Krishnan, then a teenage social activist was gang-raped by eight men.

“I don’t remember the rape part of it so much as much as the anger part of it,”she says in her talk on TED.com, “Yes, there were eight men who defiled me, raped me, but that didn’t go into my consciousness. I never felt like a victim, then or now. But what lingered from then till now – I am 40 today – is this huge outrageous anger.”

She is angry at the culture of silence.

“Two years, I was ostracized, I was stigmatized, I was isolated, because I was a victim. And that’s what we do to all traffic survivors,” she says in her talk.

In her compelling talk, Krishnan speaks on the isolation and stigma that victims of rape and the sex trade face. These are experiences that transcend global borders, where victims are victimized over and over again and pushed to the fringes of society.

As she speaks, behind her a screen projects haunting images of young women who bear the marks of the horrors of sex slavery and human trafficking.

“It’s like their faces are branded. They go through labelling; it is stamped on them forever. You are that. You are eternally morally loose, and therefore you have no right to come back to this so-called moral society,” she says to TED Blog following her talk.

Her organization Prajwala, which means “eternal flame,” is an anti-trafficking organization based in Hyderabad, India that works to rehabilitate and reintegrate girls and young women rescued from the sex trade into normal livelihood.

Prajwala provides girls and young women education and job training that offer opportunities for development and growth. The organization continues to raise awareness and advocates for policy changes to protect communities from trafficking and ensure that their rights are safeguarded. Similar programs have been adopted in other parts of India.

Krishnan feels that teaching trades, especially male-dominated trades are not only practical but empowering and therapeutic.

Prajwala girl working as welder. Image courtesy of TED Talk.

“It had a really miraculous impact on their hearts and minds. Some of the girls said they felt on top of the world. They were no longer rejected by the outside world; they were on par with men and sometimes even doing better than men,” she says to TED Blog.

The organization teaches screen printing, welding, carpentry, masonry and motor mechanics and other male-dominated trades.

“It’s not just the economic empowerment; it’s also psychologically restorative,” she says.

Working collectively with the Indian government, corporations, law enforcement and NGOs, Prajwala has rescued more than 3,200 girls and young women.

Her talk can be found online.


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