MUMBAI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Devi is a bubbly teenager who loves hip hop and belly dancing, and still nurtures her childhood dream to become a doctor, even after her life took a cruel turn when she was trafficked and sold for sex in Mumbai two years ago.
“I want to study science after high school. I know it is difficult, but I have the will to study. I was only unsure of the money,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from a shelter where she has stayed since she was rescued.
Now the money she needs has come through.
A few weeks ago, the government of the western state of Maharashtra deposited 75,000 rupees ($1,150) into Devi’s bank account, making her a rare beneficiary of a compensation scheme for victims of sexual violence that has failed to compensate many trafficking survivors.
She will receive another 225,000 rupees when she turns 18 next year.
Thousands of people – largely poor, rural women and children – are lured to India’s towns and cities each year by traffickers who promise good jobs, but sell them into modern day slavery.
Some end up as domestic workers, or forced to work in small industries such as textile workshops, farming or are pushed into brothels where they are sexually exploited.
Maharashtra is one of the top destinations for trafficked children in the country. The state government is preparing to review a financial aid scheme it established in 2013 for victims of rape and acid attacks, and for children who have been sexually assaulted.
Since its launch, Maharashtra has received 7,500 requests and offered payments to nearly 4,500 girls. Some claims were rejected while others have been held up for lack of funds, an official said.
Adult trafficking victims have not been able to access compensation as perpetrators in such cases are charged under anti-trafficking laws - not rape laws, which is a requirement to get aid under the scheme.
Yet trafficking victims under the age of 18 can be compensated if their cases are registered under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act.
A district office committee decides on compensation based on the report filed by police and the victim’s medical records.
Maharashtra’s review of the scheme was directed by the Bombay High Court, which is hearing petitions challenging rules that exclude victims from the scheme, including one denying compensation to victims assaulted prior to the scheme’s launch.
“You can’t have a cut-off date for this scheme. This is not how a welfare scheme works,” said Wesley Menezes, a lawyer fighting for compensation for a 13-year-old rape victim who was forced to marry her attacker in 2012, a year before the scheme was launched.
Advocates for trafficking victims say the date rule has primarily impacted children.
The International Justice Mission (IJM) helped in Devi’s case and it took two years, reams of paperwork and follow-ups with various government departments before the financial aid came in.
“This is the first time compensation has come through for a case with our follow-up. We are now encouraged and are pursuing compensation for four to five other cases of minor victims who are eligible for compensation,” said Melissa Walavalkar, IJM’s director of justice solutions.
($1 = 64.2380 Indian rupees)
Reporting by Roli Srivastava @Rolionaroll, editing by Alisa Tang and Ros Russell. Please credit the 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