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High Schoolers Rescued from Private Sex Trafficking Network in Kolkata

On Monday morning, 16-year-old Mona* agreed to skip school again at her mother’s request. As she had done many times before, she followed her mother to an apartment in south Kolkata and was ready to “work” to support her family—which meant being forced to sell sex to private customers.

This pattern of abuse was not just from her own mother, but from a private sex trafficking network that was exploiting dozens of other school girls in her community.

Thankfully, that network is beginning to crumble: Local anti-trafficking police rescued Mona and another teen girl on Monday before they could be sold again, and four suspects (including Mona’s mother) are now facing charges for their sex trafficking crimes.

Mona told IJM social workers she had been living this way for six long months.

Each time a “customer” called, her mother would pick up alcohol on the way to the apartment and wait in the other room while Mona was sexually exploited. Often, Mona was drugged so she would not remember these experiences. Then they would return home to her father and little sister, pretending nothing had happened.

Mona’s mother was a former sex worker herself and had promised this was a temporary arrangement until they found another source of income. But as time went by, Mona felt there was no way out.

On Monday, she arrived at the apartment and found another 17-year-old girl also waiting to be sold for sex—like the many other girls she had met since the abuse began. But instead of customers, the girls were met by a group of anti-trafficking police officers and IJM social workers on a mission to rescue them.

Immediately, police separated the girls from Mona’s mother and the other traffickers, so they could feel safe and secure. IJM’s social workers explained what was going on and that the girls were not in trouble.

Slowly, Mona began opening up to IJM staff about her story and her conflicted emotions: She believed her mother’s claim that this was their only way to get money, and she didn’t want to betray her family. She was scared of her mother, but also didn’t want her to go to jail.

As she became comfortable, Mona shared more details of the network that controlled her. She told police about several other apartments and the names of other minors she’d met being sold by similar trafficking networks around the city.

In the next room, police questioned the suspected traffickers and learned how they used social media and WhatsApp messaging to coordinate the abuse. All four suspects were arrested and have been charged under India’s anti-trafficking and child protection laws. From here, the case will move to a specialized court that provides speedy trials in these cases.

Now free from the cycle of abuse, Mona has already shown great courage and hope. She and the other rescued girl have moved to an aftercare home to heal, and she’s agreed to help in the legal trial—even though it means testifying against her mother.

She told IJM staff, “I have been given a second chance and I’m willing to do anything if it means my life will finally change.”

*A pseudonym.

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