Sold off at 7, she overcame ordeal to fight child trafficking

Ambika Pandit, TNN 23 September 2009, 05:35am IST

NEW DELHI: The similarities between the lives of these two women are pronounced and put them in a different league. Kerala-born Rani Hong, who has been a victim of child trafficking and the international adoption racket, today fights for the rights of children and women in the US. And Rekha (name changed), who fought her way out of Delhi’s largest red light area, is working for child rights in Gurgaon despite her HIV positive status TOI carried a report on her last week. The pain running deep within the two was unmistakable when they met in the capital on Monday to chalk out a common path for their shared endeavour.

Dressed in a bright salwar-kameez like any other Indian woman, Rani geared up for a brainstorming session with stakeholders on the issue of child trafficking and abuse at the American Centre on Kasturba Gandhi Marg. Her heavy American accent got lost somewhere as she put forth her case with a zeal that unravelled the tale of a survivor. “I have a voice,” Rani said asserting she was here to give voice to vulnerable, poor children being trafficked for labour and victimized for big money through the international adoption racket.

Born in a poor family in Kerala, Rani was just seven when she was sold off by her parents. They were assured of a good future for their daughter by a woman who later turned out to be a trafficker. She was beaten up and abused. The experience affected her physical and mental condition to an extent that her traffickers abandoned her on the streets. Rani then found herself in the midst of an international adoption racket and finally landed in the US.

Her life took a turn for the better when a single woman, Nell Jain, adopted her and brought her up to be an independent woman. The foster mother instilled in her the confidence to accept her past and grow up to be an advocate for child and women’s rights. “My mother helped me get out of the trauma. But life changed again when she passed away. I was 16 then,” Rani recalled.

Rani went on to become an activist and met Trong Hong a victim of child trafficking from Vietnam who was to become her husband. Together, the two set up the TRONI Foundation in Washington. Smiling at the success of the foundation in influencing policy and legislation in the US, Rani pointed that the name, TRONI, was a combination of Trong and Rani.

Her urge to find her real family brought her back to India where she managed to find her biological mother and siblings in Kerala. After the reunion, she found out how much her mother had loved her but was deceived into selling her so that she could have a better future. Now, for the last six-odd years Rani has been returning to India to work on building links to fight trafficking in the country.

“During my visits to India I have been meeting NGOs to build a strong network to be able to campaign against trafficking,” Rani said. On her current visit she met Rekha who was sold off for prostitution at GB Road and managed to wriggle out of the brothel with great courage a few years back. HIV positive and a mother of two, Rekha now works for rights of children in Gurgaon as part of an initiative by NGO Shakti Vahini. Citing Rekha’s story, Rani asserted that survivors needed to join hands to lead the campaign and give voice to innocent lives that are vulnerable to trafficking.

Study tour of Police initiatives in India


National police officers and National AIDS Programme heads from Cambodia, Maldives, Mongolia, Philippines, and Sri Lanka visited India last mnth to get a firsthand experience of law enforcement initiatives on interventions related to high risk populations.

Organised by the UNAIDS India office with support from the Regional Support Team of Asia-Pacific, the 16 participants visited and interacted with programme staff of police-initiated and supported projects in Kolkata and New Delhi. The purpose of the Study Tour was to learn the approaches of and lessons learned from law enforcement efforts for sex workers and injecting drug users and their vital role in creating a supportive environment for HIV interventions.

In Delhi, the participants visited Shakti Vahini, a non-governmental organization (NGO) working with sex workers on GB Road, one of Delhi’s oldest red light areas. Personal interactions with sex workers provided them with first-person stories of the realities of brothel-based sex work and the relationships the workers have built with the district police. The Tihar Prison, India’s largest prison, showcased the prison’s innovative and comprehensive programme for recovering injecting drug users, a model programme now being promoted in other prisons in India.

The Toll-free Hotline run by the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) – which has a national workforce of a million workers – was of great interest to the group. With the assistance of software developed especially for the project, the Hotline takes calls from police personnel from all parts of India on HIV, sexually transmitted infections, drug and substance abuse and provides addresses of counselling centres and welfare schemes of CRPF. The Helpline has responded to thousands of calls for information and for referrals to counselling services.

In West Bengal, the group travelled from Kolkata to Asansol, a large industrial town with a settlement of sex workers. The project DISHA Jana Kalyan Kendra began its work in 1995 with a collaboration with the district police force with the aim of improving the health and socio-economic conditions of sex workers in the town. In addition to providing health services, vocational and job skills training, and pre-school education for children of sex workers, DISHA has worked with the police in reducing criminality in the community.

In Kolkata, the Study Tour participants visited the NGO Society for Community Intervention and Research (SCIR) to observe their work with people who inject drugs (IDUs). The NGO works in the community of Tiljala, the largest slum settlement in Kolkata. It offers educational programmes for children, livelihood training for IDUs as well as an oral substitution treatment programme.

The projects covered in the Study Tour gave a novel perspective on the role of the police sector not only as law enforcers but also as community enablers. Given the legal and judicial frameworks in the countries represented by the participants, these innovations gave rise to challenges on how they may be replicated in their countries. The Study Tour, as a South-South learning opportunity, demonstrated encouraging prospects of police leadership to break new ground.


For the 4,000-odd sex workers in Delhis red light area, a Drop-In Centre has become a place of rehabilitation


Sex workers line the steep flight of stairs leading to what used to be brothel number 5207. Like the 108 other brothels on Swami Shradhanand Marg more commonly called G B Road, the capitals largest red light area there was a time when exploitation and police raids hounded 5207.

Then, in 2001, the Delhi High Court stepped in to seal the space. And what used to be a brothel, is today a place of healing.

A Drop-In Centre and a health centre for the treatment of sexually transmitted diseases , which opened in April this year, allow sex workers to step out of their brothels. Theyre now turning 5207 into a space that is becoming their own. They play, sing, dance, watch television, and share their pain with one another.

G B Road is home to about 4,000 sex workers.

One of them, 50-year-old Lalima, glows as she conducts a session on sexually transmitted diseases at the centre. Brought from Kolkata by a relative when she was 12, she was forced into the trade. She grew old, got tuberculosis and was thrown out. But she did not give up. She did odd jobs like grocery shopping for sex workers to be able to scrounge together two square meals a day.

Lalima is well now. Healthy. And she is now a peer educator at the centre, acting as a bridge between counsellors, doctors and sex workers. Lalima says she wants to fight for the rights of women like her who were forced into a life they had no wish to be part of. Lalima lives on the footpath, but tries to save a little from the Rs 1,500 she earns every month for her daughter who lives in a hostel and knows nothing about her mothers life.

Sex workers in bright makeup peer out of the small windows of the brothels across the road, while those at the Drop-In Centre look a very different lot. It is difficult to imagine that when they leave the centre after an hour, they will go back to their daily lives.

Nagma and Aarti are engrossed in a game of carrom, but turn around long enough to say they find peace at the centre. To them, freedom means one hour at the centre, one time a week.

The Drop-In Centre and the health centre have been set up by the NGOs Shakti Vahini and Indian Medicine Development Trust and is supported by Delhi State Aids Control Society (DSACS).

Most of these women are from poor homes, and were either forced into the trade by circumstance or tricked into it. Later, they were driven into the brothels by pimps and madams who lead the nexus, says Rishikant of Shakti Vahini.

Under the Targeted Interventions Programme put together by DSACS and NGOs we felt educating sex workers about HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted disease was not enough. So, the sex workers who looked keen to stand up for their rights, we turned them into peer educators, says Rishikant. He adds that there are as many as 34 peer educators at the centre now.

Taking Stock

GB Road, officially called Shradhanand Marg, is the capitals red light area Over 4,000 sex workers live in 108 brothels housed in 24 buildings The sex workers are mostly natives of Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, West Bengal, Orissa, UP and Bihar. At least 30% of them are from Nepal 32 of 536 women surveyed tested positive for HIV in 2008-09 About 25 lakh condoms were distributed in 2008-09 Only 30% of sex workers were provided presumptive treatment for sexually transmitted diseases

Source: Shakti Vahini

Delhi civil society demands reopening of Ruchika case, lights candles


NEW DELHI: People from different walks of life on Thursday demanded the reopening of Ruchika Girhotra molestation case and lit candles at the historic Jantar Mantar to register their protest against the light sentence handed to the perpetrator, former Haryana police chief S P S Rathore.

“It is amply clear that Ruchika was facing threats from the Haryana Police on one side and severe stress and mental trauma due to the molestation,” said Kanan Jaswal, an activist of NGO Good Governance.

“We demand an inquiry into the case and circumstances which led to Ruchika committing suicide. There should be an inquiry into the role of other police officers who abetted her suicide. These officials needed to be booked along with Rathore for abetment of suicide,” he added.

A special Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) court in Chandigarh had Monday held Rathore guilty of molesting 14-year-old Ruchika in Panchkula town Aug 12, 1990 and sentenced him to a six-month prison term. The budding tennis player had committed suicide three years after the incident.

Ravi Kant, an advocate and president of NGO Shakti Vahini, said Haryana Police officers, on Rathore’s orders, used legal and illegal means to intimidate Ruchika and her family.

“The Haryana Police had booked Ruchika’s brother in 11 cases. All the files relating to these cases need to be seized and examined to find out the people responsible for the criminal intimidation of Ruchika’s family,” he contended.

Kamal Kant Jaswal, a retired Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer, called for a probe into how Rathore was promoted as director general of police inspite of facing such a severe charge of child abuse and abetment to suicide.

“After the allegations surfaced, Rathore was first promoted as special director general of police and then director general of police. The files relating to his promotion need to be examined,” Jaswal maintained.

The various groups with the same demands have also shot off letters to Law Minister M. Veerappa Molly while some people Thursday lit candles at the Jantar Mantar in the heart of the national capital.

SC for legalising prostitution, activists up in arms

Sougata Mukhopadhyay / CNN-IBN

TimePublished on Mon, Dec 14, 2009 at 23:26, Updated on Tue, Dec 15, 2009 at 00:58 in India section

Kolkata/New Delhi: The Supreme Court, while hearing a PIL on child trafficking last week, asked the Centre if it would consider legalising prostitution if it can’t curb it. The apex court pointed out that it could help closely monitor prostitution and help provide rehabilitation and medical aid to sex-workers.

The Court pointed that no where in the world has the law been able to tackle prostitution and so the Government must consider legalising it.

The move to penalise clients visiting sex workers is inviting criticism but the Director General of the National AIDS Control Organisation has said this will only push the trade underground. He has said that to ensure that the health sex workers can be monitired and that there is no exploitation of sex workers, there is need to legalise the trade.

Programme Director, Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee, Bharati Dey – while voicing the demands of lakhs of sex workers across the country – added, “We will get PF, medical insurance, working hours will be fixed for them.”

Led by the sex workers of Sonagachi in Kolkata, prostitutes all over are demanding that their profession be legalised and treated at par with other professions – free of extortion and abuse from the police and brothel owners.

A sex worker Kamla (name changed to protect identity) says, “If police will be there all the time we won’t be able to earn anything. They trouble us a lot.”

But Kamla and Bharti’s fight for legitimacy is also being described by some as a sanction for exploitation. The anti-legalisation groups say that the move will mean giving legal and social sanction to human rights violation.

Executive Director, Shakti Vahini, Ravi Kant says, “We have never found a single victim who says legalise it, legalise my human rights violation, legalise my getting raped everyday. From bringing them from source to destination, there are tens of people involved and they are all making a profit from this trade.”

Activists say foreign funding coming into anti-HIV programmes also drive some parties to lobby hard for legalisation.

Social activist, Madhu Kishwar says, “Does it mean that parents who offer their girls to touts for sex trade should be allowed to do so?”

On Delhi’s infamous GB road, Nimmi Bai, who has walked these streets for 45 years, says she has few illusions about rehabilitation.

“The Government has been unable to give employment to hundreds of educated youth in this country. You think they will give us jobs?” says she.

And even as the fight for respect continues, Nimmi Bai knows the world’s oldest profession can never really be shut down.

“If they stop this trade, girls will be picked up from houses. Girls will find it difficult to walk on roads for fear of being picked up. Because of this profession, some girls can stay safe in their homes,” she concludes on a somber note.

DFID's work on HIV and AIDS in India

25 November 2009

Words by Alex Renton, photographs by Abbie Trayler-Smith

There isn’t often good news in development work; too often the job of assisting the world’s poorest seems a hard and unwinnable slog. But in India there has been a major success. “Ten years ago the numbers suggested AIDS was going to run wild through the sub-continent,” says Emma Spicer, senior programme manager for DFID in India. “People were talking about a developing emergency. But India has started to win the battle to reverse the HIV infection rate.”

DFID has spent £140 million over the last 12 years assisting the Indian government in this fight, working on every aspect of HIV prevention from tackling mother-to-child transmission to the legal rights of homosexuals. And it seems to be paying off. “I think we can be proud of the part we’ve played in India’s success,” says Sabina Bindra Barnes, DFID’s HIV and AIDS Task Team Leader.

That success is measured not just in the overall numbers of people living with HIV, which are less than half what was predicted a decade ago (at about 2.3 million, now, in a population of over one billion). It also lies in other indicators: the massive increases in the number of pregnant mothers and other vulnerable people being tested for HIV, and in access to counselling and treatment for those who need it. National HIV prevalence rates in India are now about the same as those in Spain and Portugal, with some states and particular groups having higher rates.

Rishi kant , an HIV educator among sex workers in a DFID–supported programme in Delhi, says: “Seeing the figures on HIV stabilise gives us motivation. Our job is hard, it gives us the energy to continue because we know what can be achieved.” There is still work to be done. Infection rates are still high among certain groups, such as men who have sex with men, sex workers and injecting drug users. Some poor regions of India are “HIV hotspots”.

So DFID’s funding is now targeted at these areas. Over the next four years, Britain is contributing £102 million towards India’s National Aids Control Programme, about 10% of its total budget. We went out into the streets of Delhi to see this work in action.

First stop was a care home which supports children with HIV. It was lunchtime when we arrived, and the big kitchen was full of younger children eating a noisy lunch of dal, rice and potatoes, before running off to rest or play. Pretty quickly I found myself involved in a skipping rope game with two seven-year-olds: they were in fits of giggles at my clumsiness.

It’s clear that this is no sombre, forbidding institution. Anuradha Mukherjee, programs manager, says the Naz – the word means Pride – Care Home is “a family”.  She spoke to me over the shoulder of a small six-year-old. Tired-out after a long morning at a nearby primary school the girl sought Anuradha for a cuddle, and fallen asleep in her arms. Like almost all the children at Naz she looks perfectly healthy. The 43 children are between 15 months old and 16 years old and most are HIV positive.

“Twenty-seven of our children are on anti-retroviral therapy, and they have access to nursing care and a doctor full time. But the main thing, and this is something we stress, is that you don’t need to do anything different. We take care of them as we would any child.” She points out a few children who have visible problems – scarring from skin infections picked up on the street, one with the distended stomach that is a side-effect of long-term malnutrition, and in a couple of cases, mental and physical damage.

“Most of the children are orphaned, and were found abandoned in the streets or left at temples. Three or four have one parent, who was not in a condition to care for them.”

Looking after these children takes kindness and good care: it costs about 9,000 rupees (£110) a month for each of them. But Naz’s work goes beyond this: it is trying to break down the prejudice and ignorance that condemns HIV positive people in India to hide, and, in turn, is a crucial part of the job of controlling the spread of the disease.

“We’re the only orphanage like this in India, and we get calls every day asking us to take children. We try to convince parents or extended family that they can look after the kids. But it is difficult – there is fear of the disease and as a result a lot of homeless HIV children out there, and most of them don’t even know their status.” The most awful thing, says Anuradha, is that they have come across examples of orphanages taking some children from a family but refusing to take those that are HIV positive. Now Naz is training government orphanages in how to care for people living with HIV.

DFID globally and in India supports a range of interventions to ensure that children made vulnerable by AIDS are cared for and supported, enabling them to eat well, go to school and realise their potential. The majority of children made vulnerable by AIDS are living in family environments. Across the world, DFID supports social protection policies and programmes that provide effective and predictable support to the most vulnerable households, including those with children affected by AIDS. Care homes are a last resort, for those who face abuse and neglect, often due to stigma and discrimination, as Naz’s experiences demonstrate.

Addressing the stigma and ignorance around HIV is key to halting the spread of the disease itself. So while much of Naz’s work involves providing education and counselling to sex workers and men who have sex with men (the one group in India where HIV infection rates are not yet dropping), it has also had to become involved with the gay rights movement. Under section 377 of the penal code introduced in colonial times, homosexuality is not only a criminal offence, but technically Naz and other organisations’ work in counselling and advising homosexuals on their health is illegal too. Thanks to the lobbying and campaigning work, “section 377” is now being repealed.

Elsewhere in India, DFID works with the Indian government’s much praised National AIDS Control Programmes to target the problems that, according to the research, contribute most to the spread of HIV. The priority is to rapidly scale up prevention, treatment, care and support services for vulnerable groups. In addition, DFID provides support to address legislation that makes it difficult for vulnerable groups to access prevention and treatment programmes.

One example is the injecting drug users among the huge population of street people who inhabit the old city centre in Delhi. At a drop in centre close to the railway station we watched the men arrive from their sleeping places or their casual jobs as rubbish pickers or street vendors. The Sharan centre sees around 200 such cases a day – it gives them food, substitute drugs, basic medical help and counselling. Many of the men are migrants who originally arrived from rural India looking for work in Delhi.

Paul is a drug injector who earns his living picking rags to recycle. He is caring for his wife who is living with HIV. He told us the centre was crucial to him and people like him. “It does a very good job: it helps us with food, gives us condoms,  clean needles, counselling. They found me training to work as a rickshaw driver. Now I’m too busy looking after my family, but one day I will try the rehab that they offer: it’s hard but I will have to do it.” Paul has been visiting the clinic for eight years.

Successes are hard won in this world, but the stories of people like Paul and the others using Sharan add up to India’s extraordinary success in tackling AIDS. And that is also about lives changed for the better. Another beneficiary of the funding, 34-year-old Rekha, is now a counsellor with the NGO Shakti Vahini, supported through DFID’s HIV programme, helping female sex workers in India and educating them about HIV prevention.

Rekha’s story is typical of many. Aged 17, she was sold to a brothel nearby, beaten, tortured, and had to service ten to 15 clients in the building for five years. When she contracted TB – a common complaint among people living with HIV – the owner refused to let her go to hospital and instead told her she would die, still working, in the brothel in Delhi’s notorious GB Road.

“I met activists working from Shakti Vahini who helped me. They got me medicines and told me they would support me if I ran away. That gave me confidence and courage and it saved me,” Rekha tells us. Delhi’s closeted sex work industry – in a country that famously “does not talk about sex”, as one NGO worker told us – is now at last opening up to the crucial messages about HIV, safe sex and prevention.

Rekha’s job takes her to Delhi’s train station, where she spots girls arriving from the country. They may have been brought to the big city under false pretences only to be sold into sex work. Which is what happened to Rekha. She has already saved some girls, and brought about one prosecution. She has even come face-to-face with the woman who sold her to the brothel.

The work of preventing HIV is many-faceted: but one satisfying aspect is that it can put an end to some of the other injustices of the big city too. “I tell my story to inspire other people like me,” says Rekha. “I believe others can escape that fate, too.”—India/

Candlelight vigil held to demand justice for Ruchika


TimePublished on Thu, Dec 24, 2009 at 23:44 in  CNN IBN

DEMANDING JUSTICE: Ruchika’s friend at the candlelight vigil said the Government should make every girl safe in India.


New Delhi: Her staunch friend Aradhana and her family as well as members of the civil society on Thursday demanded harsher punishment for former Haryana police chief SPS Rathore for molesting teenaged Ruchika Girhotra 19 years ago and lighted candles at the Jantar Mantar to register their protest.

“I just want to say that we have to make every girl in the country safe. I think that our political and judicial system requires reforms as 19-and-a-half years to deliver justice is an example of poor governance and shortcomings of our judicial system,” Ruchika’s friend Aradhana, whose family fought the case, said.

“I was just 13 at that time but with the constant support of my parents we have been able to reach this stage. We demand stricter punishment for Rathore and charging him with abetment to suicide. We have to prove that this is a democratic India and not a barbaric nation. Ruchika’s family should be rehabilitated and they should be granted compensation,” she added.

A special Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) court in Chandigarh on Monday held Rathore guilty of molesting 14-year-old Ruchika Girhotra in Panchkula town on August 12, 1990. The budding tennis player committed suicide three years later due to alleged harassment by the police official for filing an official complaint against the molestation. Rathore was sentenced to six-month prison term by the court.

Aradhana said the property and wealth amassed by Rathore during all these years should be confiscated.

“We are consulting the National Commission for Women and a NHRC advocate and we will go forward according to their advice. All political leaders who were in power at that time and who ignored the crime are responsible for Ruchika’s suicide,” said Aradhana, who flew down from Sydney for the court hearing.

“We started this fight because Ruchika had said whatever has happened with me should not happen with other girls. Ruchika’s family has borne the burnt of standing up to an influential policemen like Rathore,” she added.

Aradhana’s father Anand Prakash said: “We are holding this candlelight march in Delhi because it is the seat of power. The people in power should also know the kind of excesses which are happening in other parts of the country. So we will fight until justice is done by Ruchika.”

“We never felt our courage faltering in all these years. From day one we were determined to take the case to its logical end,” he said.

Social activist Swami Agnivesh said the six-month jail term for Rathore was not a punishment but “a mockery of justice”.

“This is a challenge that we face as a nation. We have to become Ruchika’s voice. It is a clear case of abetment to suicide,” he added.

At Jantar Mantar, people carried banners that read “Death to the molester”, “Frame legislation to protect children against abuse” and “Re-investigate the case”.

Ravi Kant, an advocate and president of NGO Shakti Vahini, said Haryana Police officers, on Rathore’s orders used legal and illegal means to intimidate Ruchika and her family.

“The Haryana Police had booked Ruchika’s brother in 11 cases. All the files relating to these cases need to be seized and examined to find out the people responsible for the criminal intimidation of Ruchika’s family,” he contended.

Meanwhile, people holding candles and placards reached the gate of Rathore’s house in Panchkula, a town in Haryana, to demand harsher punishment to the official.