In January, Freedom Firm and Justice Ventures International (JVI) investigators launched a cooperative effort for the year 2019 to rescue minors in Kolkata, India’s third-largest city of more than 14 million people. Home to an estimated 12,000 sex workers, the red light districts of Sonagachi and Kalighat are notorious centres for the trafficking of minors.
In January, our joint investigative team found eleven girls in two locations in Sonagachi, Kolkata’s largest red-light district. Simultaneously, in another red-light area in the city, the investigators found one more girl. When the JVI team requested the police to conduct three separate raids to rescue the girls, they refused, stating that they did not have enough personnel to do the job. Eventually, they agreed to two locations.
On the 7th of February, two intervention teams were formed to raid the two brothel buildings in Sonagachi. When the team found eight girls in the first location and three girls in the second location, the police refused to rescue 10 of the girls, because they all produced identity cards stating they were 18 years and above.
Only one girl, Rina*, did not have any documents. The police reiterated that they would only take girls who were clearly minor. Correct raid and rescue protocol would have dictated that police rescue all the women who had been found and do age verification tests to determine their real ages. Many so-called identity documents are forged to “prove” the girl is a major.
During the rescue operation, a pro-prostitution group showed up at the raid and convinced police that the girls were not forced into prostitution and had the required documents.
Rina*, aged 17 was rescued that day. During her interaction with social workers, we learned that she was from Agra, Uttar Pradesh. Rina* is currently in a shelter home in Kolkata, and Freedom Firm and JVI social workers are hoping to obtain a court order giving them permission to counsel Rina*.
*Name changed to protect identity