Baitali Ganguly has spent more than two decades fighting against human trafficking — rescuing and rehabilitating women and children who have been trafficked.

In 1992, she co-founded Jabala Action Research Organization, an NGO based in Kolkata that shelters victims of trafficking and rehabilitates them.

Today, the organisation has rescued hundreds of women and children and has created a model for rehabilitation that the government and other organisations can emulate. “States in India don’t have a specific policy for rehabilitation of trafficking victims. Because of this, successful rehabilitations are very rare,” says Ms. Ganguly.

She was in the city to participate in a two-day national consultation on ‘Anti-trafficking – strategies and roadmap to address the issues,’ organised by the Human Rights Law Network, Kerala, and supported by the U.S. Consulate, Chennai.

Kerala, Ms. Ganguly feels, has a long way to go to ensure effective rehabilitation of victims of trafficking. “I feel that the area is not sufficiently sensitised to trafficking. The media and other agencies should try to mainstream the issue,” she says. Kerala is both source and destination for agents operating trafficking rackets. People from other States of India are trafficked to the State for labour and prostitution. Many Malayalees are in turn trafficked to other States and countries, where they are forced to live in inhuman conditions as labourers or prostitutes. “Though Kerala is better off than other States, there are poverty-stricken and marginalized people here who are vulnerable to trafficking,” she says.

Jabala’s approach to combating trafficking is to sensitise vulnerable groups of society to prevent their being trafficked. Rehabilitation is the focus once a woman or child is rescued. “The State should be the primary actor for rehabilitation. But that hardly happens. Jabala is trying to show a model for rehabilitation which can be emulated. If an NGO with limited funds can do something, then why not the government?” she says.

Jabala’s efforts have helped many young victims of trafficking find employment and lead happy lives. “Most of our girls don’t want to go back to their villages, where they will be bound by stigma. But they also want to get out of the shelter home. So accommodation is a big issue.”

The organisation tries to address this issue by renting out apartments where around four women can stay and work. Jabala has helped victims of trafficking start canteens and catering services. Some are employed as security personnel in shopping malls. Children are also encouraged to take up sports and cultural activities such as song, dance and theatre performances.

“We give them confidence-building training. One success leads to more success. But without effective prosecution, there can be no effective rehabilitation,” she says.

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