IJM Chennai: Eight-Year Trial Ends with Justice, Sex Trafficking Survivors Moving Forward

Eight years after IJM helped rescue two teenage sisters who were being sold for sex, an Indian court found three traffickers guilty on multiple charges.
Eight years after IJM helped rescue two teenage sisters who were being sold for sex, an Indian court found three traffickers guilty on multiple charges.

CHENNAI, INDIA – Eight years after IJM helped rescue two teenage sisters who were being sold for sex, an Indian court found three traffickers guilty on multiple charges. The traffickers face ten years in prison, and the young women are moving forward to a bright future.

Betrayed by Their Own Mother

IJM Chennai discovered a sex trafficking ring in a nearby city shortly after the deadly 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean—which killed 150,000 and left millions homeless across Asia. Many families in Southern India were displaced after the devastating storm, and children were particularly vulnerable to being trafficked.

The girls IJM Chennai discovered were not actually trapped in a brothel. In this case, they were transported between various hotels and sold to different men. The woman in charge of the small operation was their own mother. She was working with at least two others to source customers and sell the girls for sex.

In April 2005, IJM took the evidence to a state-level anti-trafficking police unit. The police led an undercover operation and arrested the woman and her accomplices in the middle of the fake transaction.

Battle for Justice

The battle for justice in this case lasted nearly a decade. Judges and other court officials have been transferred and reassigned multiple times, causing serious delays. Boycotts at the courthouse have led to adjournment after adjournment. When the trafficker went into hiding after being let out on bail, the trial stalled as police searched for her.

But despite the challenges, IJM lawyers persevered in the trial, providing legal expertise to the public prosecutor assigned to the case, as well as ongoing support to the sisters. Both sisters decided to testify in the trial against their mother, the woman who had trafficked them. It was a difficult, incredibly brave decision, as it meant they had to dredge up the awful memories of abuse and testify in the same room as their mother. The IJM staff who were present said it was "both heartbreaking and inspirational" to see the girls speak out so boldly.

At one point, several years into the trial, the former Field Office Director of IJM Chennai was called on to testify. Due to the uncertainty of the trial process and frequent adjournments, it was not possible for him to fly to India to testify. IJM successfully advocated with the court to allow him to testify via video conference—the first time to our knowledge that an Indian court had ever used this kind of technology for a testimony. Later in the hearing, the laptop was not loading the video properly, but one of the sisters—who was actually on the witness stand—stepped up confidently to fix the problem. The judge complimented her and thanked her for making it possible to review the video evidence.

The eight-year trial finally ended on August 30, 2013: the girls' mother was convicted on five different charges, and she will serve a ten-year prison sentence—a significant length of time in the Indian justice system. The pimps who had worked with her were also convicted for sex trafficking crimes, and they face ten years of rigorous imprisonment with a 10,000 rupees fine each.

Moving Forward

The sisters have overcome great challenges since they were rescued. After being deserted by their father and deceived by their mother, the girls needed holistic care and long-term counseling. IJM social workers have provided both. One of the staff members who has known the girls for many years says she has seen how the girls "fought back" in order to make a different future for themselves.

Both of the girls graduated from high school and decided to keep studying. The younger sister is in her second year of college, studying information technology. Her older sister completed her Bachelors of Business Administration and is planning to get her Masters.

Today, the sisters live independently in a house with their friends. Through their education and the specialized care they have received, they are moving forward.