We just lost another case in Nagpur. It is our second trial to come to a verdict. In both cases, the girls testified. In both, they denied ever being in prostitution. The other common thread is that neither girl came to the court under Freedom Firm's care. This is ultimately because of a lack of protection provided by the government institutions that are supposed to guard these girls. When girls do not receive care and protection post-rescue, they will not testify to the truth in court. When they do not testify truthfully in court, acquittal is almost inevitable.
There have been many sad days in Nagpur when we learned of another girl being released. It was difficult and painful for our social workers to meet a rescued girl in the shelter home, hold her hand, hear her story, and then see her released. We knew what that meant in the girls' lives, but we also knew what it meant to our chances of justice in court.
By God’s grace, many girls were rescued again. Some of them were even found in a different city than the place of the first rescue. Most of them were re-rescued without our investigations team even realizing it until after they were in the police station or the shelter home. Often, these cases are the most helpful to expose the system because they prove that a wrong happened as a result of a girl’s release. In every case, we seized the opportunity to point out the mistakes and the violations of law, and to spotlight what happened so it doesn’t happen again.
Freedom Firm has worked with government institutions in Nagpur to make them more accountable. We have plugged many holes yet we have learned that any one weakness can be exploited by the brothel community to re-traffic a girl. So far, we have dealt with manipulated hospital age determination tests and child welfare committee release orders. We have strengthened the cases filed against the perpetrators making bail harder to obtain. We have challenged the probation officer’s reports on release. We have filed supplementary charges against traffickers for filing false applications and submitting fake documents. We have appealed the notion that girls should be relocated to their home communities for rehabilitation (because ultimately it doesn’t exist there). We have worked to transfer girls out of Nagpur to safer shelter homes in Mumbai.
Not a single girl has been released from protective custody in Nagpur in 2015. Now I don’t believe the work is over, but I do think we are making progress. I still remember when girls were being released left and right, I stumbled upon a Pune legal letter in our server from years ago. It was a complaint to a government department against the release of a few minors who we believed would be at risk of re-trafficking due to failure to follow legal procedures. As I read that letter, I realized that it had been a few years since we had visited that particular government body. We hadn’t had a reason to go for a long time. You see, we had fought for those girls, in many different ways, even after they were gone. We exposed their cases and we demanded institutional and legal accountability. And we saw change. Nagpur, and the other cities where Freedom Firm is operating, are on a path to resemble something closer to Pune. The institutions in those cities will soon operate independently for the protection of minor girls; without the force and pressure of NGOs.
Post rescue, our aftercare, and our legal work are entirely dependent on each other. There will be no girl to counsel and care for without advocates fighting to protect her. And there will be no legal victories without girls who have been cared for who can then stand on their own for justice. At the end of the day, Freedom Firm’s work stands on the shoulders of little girls. They are ultimately the only ones who can prevent more girls from being exploited. They are the ones who must change the system.
– Evan Henck, Regional Director