By Roli Srivastava
Ishika never thought that being sold by her parents to a brothel in Kolkata at the age of six would inspire her to pursue a career in one of the most prestigious professions - law.
But after being rescued from sexual slavery, Ishika, now 24, has spent more than a decade trying to get justice against her traffickers. Despite the drawn-out case, she has not given up hope of seeing her abusers behind bars.
"I will become a lawyer and take up cases of trafficking victims and fight them effectively," said Ishika, one of nearly 20 sex trafficking survivors who will study law under a programme launched by an anti-trafficking charity on Thursday.
"I was rescued 13 years ago but my case is still going on," Ishika, who asked to be identified only by her first name, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"I often feel I am the accused and not the victim. I do not want other trafficking victims to go through this."
Of an estimated 20 million commercial sex workers in India, 16 million women and girls are victims of sex trafficking, according to campaigners. But fewer than two in five trafficking cases ends in a conviction.
Sex trafficking victims who are now preparing to study law as part of the School for Justice programme of the Free A Girl Movement charity enjoy a day in the sun at Girgaum Chowpatty in Mumbai, India on April 4, 2017. THOMSON REUTERS FOUNDATION/ROLI SRIVASTAVA
The U.S. State Department said in its 2016 Trafficking in Persons report that investigations, prosecutions and convictions for human trafficking were low in India even though the government has stepped up its law enforcement efforts.
Free A Girl Movement said under its "School for Justice" programme, young women who had been trafficked for sex as children would be guided through the college admission process and their education and other expenses provided for.
"It is a long-term programme to empower sex trafficking survivors and help them become public prosecutors in the future so that they take up cases of child trafficking and child prostitution," said the charity's spokesman Francis Gracias.
Campaigners say prosecutors representing rescued victims are often unable to connect with their plight or help them to sufficiently express themselves in court - which weakens the case and often results in acquittals.
"Rescued girls do not understand the legalities of the case such as what sections of the law were applied and why," said Tapoti Bhowmick of charity Sanlaap, which helps rescued girls like Ishika complete their school education.
"They (rescued girls) can represent cases of trafficking better in court as they have themselves suffered the pain and trauma it causes," Bhowmick said.
Ishika has already started studying English, mathematics and other subjects in preparation for the entrance exam to a law college, which she hopes will one day help her win her case.
"The brothel madam and my trafficker have remained free all these years that I have spent at a shelter home. I want traffickers to fear law, and me," she said.
This story was first published by Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org