Prerana protects women and children from the threats of human trafficking by defending their rights, supporting their education and health, and leading advocacy efforts.
By Steve Fox
Prerana’s Night Care Centers were created to ensure the safety and development of children living in the red-light areas. This program was initiated as a response to the needs of mothers in the sex trade to keep their children safe during the night. Screenshot courtesy https://preranaantitrafficking.org/
“I have always wanted to live a life of dignity, a feat which I was not able to fulfill until only recently,” says Mangala. “I no longer work in the sex trade and want a life as far away from it as possible. I am working as a nurse and I look after old-aged women because it is something that I like to do.” “Mangala,” who asked that her real name not be used, was absorbed into the sex trade by a friend she met in Mumbai after running away from home when she was about 15 years old.
Asha, who also asked that her real name not be used, was deceived into leaving home. “I was brought to Mumbai from my village nearly 20 years ago with the promise of a work opportunity but was sold into the sex trade,” she says. “Back then, when I tried to run away, I could not because I was owned by someone so I had no choice but to continue living, one day at a time.”
Mangala and Asha were rescued by Prerana, a civil society organization that began working in the red-light areas of Mumbai in 1986. Many others are not so fortunate.
“Traffickers exploit millions of people in commercial sex within India,” the U.S. State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report states. Traffickers target women and girls within countries but also fraudulently recruit significant numbers of women and girls across borders for sex trafficking.
The risk of trafficking affects not only individuals, but also families, and communities. Both Mangala and Asha have children, and because of their own experiences, they were determined to protect them from the sex trade, especially at night. They brought their children to one of four Prerana Night Care Centers, where children can stay overnight while receiving wholesome nutrition, safe play and sanitation options, educational support, health care and other services.
The vulnerability of children victimized by traffickers is apparent in a 2020 Prerana study that provided an overall social profile of 109 girls the organization rescued from the Mumbai sex trade. Among the grim findings: 52 percent were between 16 and 18 years old, while the rest were under 16, including some between 6 and 12 years old; and 26 percent had never been to any school, with 71 percent attending grades 4 through 10.
Prerana, a Hindi and Sanskrit word which translates to “Inspiration” in English, was co-founded by Pravin Patkar, a Fulbright Fellow and academic who holds a Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Mumbai and his wife, Priti, who holds a master’s degree in social work from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences. Together they have guided Prerana as it expanded over more than 30 years to become a leader in the battle against the long-standing problem of human trafficking.
“We expanded from our flagship programs, which were localized to ending intergenerational sex trafficking, to addressing well-oiled, harmful social customs of sex trafficking prevalent in certain Indian communities,” Patkar says. “With support and encouragement from the U.S. Department of State, we created and deployed the knowledge hub Anti Trafficking Center (ATC) that is highly trusted by experts and stakeholders.”
In addition to directly helping victims of sex trafficking, Prerana also works to increase law enforcement’s awareness of the problem, conduct anti-trafficking sensitization, and heighten enforcement of existing laws against human trafficking.
“We work closely with state agencies, as well as challenging them in the court of law when required. We pioneered larger anti-human trafficking judicial mobilization through public interest litigations,” he says. “There is comparatively a greater ‘rule of law’ in law enforcement now, and mechanisms required under the relevant laws are being put in place. Systems are now getting strengthened, increasing the sustainability of interventions.”
Over the years, Prerana also pioneered a number of programs to help those rescued from the sex trade. “Rehabilitation of sex traffic victims was a dark tunnel filled with failures and badly in need of success stories,” Patkar explains. “Prerana created a proper perspective on victims and victimhood and corrected the social misperception of victims. We, together with the state and civil society organizations, provided that light indicating the end of the tunnel.”
Although human trafficking remains a serious problem, Patkar is encouraged by how efforts to combat it have evolved. “There is now better conceptual clarity on human trafficking, and there has been a socialization of intervention, moving away from a monopolized program to a broad-based social movement,” he says. “Many more civil society organizations have joined the anti-human trafficking work, and there is better compatibility with domestic laws and international and United Nations conventions. Our mantra is: ‘Everyone is relevant and everyone has a role to play’—from higher court judiciary to auto-rickshaw driver, from global players to local, field-based caregivers.’ ”
Steve Fox is a freelance writer, former newspaper publisher and reporter based in Ventura, California.