KOLKATA, INDIA – This month, the justice system in Kolkata took a massive step to combat sex trafficking by awarding record-setting compensation to a 17-year-old survivor named Priti.*
On November 18, Priti was notified about the compensation order from the District Legal Services Authority (DLSA) which awarded her 900,000 rupees (about A$16,000) for the pain she suffered in a brothel as a young teen.
It’s the highest amount ever to be awarded to a minor survivor in the state of West Bengal.
These funds were also authorised before the trial against Priti’s abusers has completed, which sets an important precedent in the implementation of survivor-centric laws across the state.
“This win is an excellent example of how strong collaboration between the police, lawyers and social workers lead to unprecedented wins,” said IJM lawyer, Joanna Shireen Sarkar. “The persistence of each member involved in this created history in the state.”
These funds will have a major impact on Priti’s life as she heals from years of pain and abuse.
She had been orphaned as a child and, around the age of 12 or 13, was trafficked from her home state of Odisha to a red-light district in Kolkata. In the brothel, she was beaten frequently and sexually abused for a profit.
In May 2016, the Anti-Human Trafficking Unit (AHTU) rescued Priti and arrested three suspects with IJM’s help, and Priti moved to a safe aftercare home.
IJM’s legal team then helped the AHTU strengthen Priti’s case by ensuring it reflected India’s laws on human trafficking and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offenses (POCSO) Act. Adding these charges in 2018 helped move the case to a designated court for children and also qualified Priti for special compensation to assist her healing and education. Unfortunately, that court was vacant at the time, making it difficult for her to receive any funds under the POCSO Act.
To help Priti’s case, IJM Kolkata referenced a Calcutta High Court directive that authorised giving compensation to a survivor no matter the progress in her legal case.
We formally applied for Priti’s compensation before the DLSA in February 2019, as we waited for the trial to begin. We also asked the DLSA to increase the traditional cap on compensation because Priti was only 13 years old at the time of the abuse.
From there, Priti’s case was delayed many times and sat before three different judges awaiting a decision. Our police partners remained diligent, though, and faithfully provided all the evidence they could to ensure Priti would be supported. One police official even walked 2 kilometres back and forth to court every time he was called to work on the case.
And while most court decisions on compensation are tied to a conviction in a case, we advocated that funds be released to Priti sooner to enable her counselling and education—rather than waiting years for the case to conclude.
Ultimately, DLSA officials were favourable to Priti’s situation and awarded her the maximum compensation in early 2020. It took several months to finalise the order and notify Priti of the good news. Priti’s lawyer expressed her gratitude for the DLSA’s survivor-centric order which reinstated the assurance that “the victim was not forgotten in the criminal justice system.”
The legal trial against the three accused in Priti’s case is still ongoing. One perpetrator (who was a minor) has already pleaded guilty, and IJM will continue supporting the trial against the other two suspects who exploited Priti.
We hope that, when they are held accountable, it sends a strong message of deterrence towards the commercial sexual exploitation of minors. The team will also follow up to ensure Priti’s compensation is deposited to her account soon.
Today, Priti is 17 years old and living at a loving aftercare home in Kolkata. She was overjoyed at the news of the compensation order and plans to use these funds for her education and, one day, building her own house. Priti said she hopes that many other victims who are yet to receive any compensation do so without any delay. She also wished for other helpless young girls to be rescued from the brothels.
*A pseudonym. The header artwork was created by this survivor after she heard about the compensation order.
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