In May 2023, a Kolkata Court in India announced a groundbreaking judgment, sentencing five accused individuals to life imprisonment and imposing fines totalling 500,000 rupees (CA$8,245), which will be transferred to the survivors. The court convicted the accused under India's laws for trafficking and sexually exploiting minors.
Securing life imprisonment is a significant milestone in the fight against trafficking and sexual exploitation, marking a first for IJM’s team in West Bengal.
Pleased that justice prevailed, one of the public prosecutors expressed, “Conviction is always good news for prosecution. I believe that all the joint efforts from the police, prosecution and IJM resulted in securing the highest punishment. I hope this case will send a strong message to the traffickers and rapists.”
Liberated from Vicious Cycle of Abuse
The journey toward justice began September 6, 2013, when the Anti Human Trafficking Unit, with assistance from IJM, rescued 15-year-old Sampriti* from the notorious red-light district Sonagachi in West Bengal.
A series of traumatic incidents had led Sampriti to Sonagachi. Her boyfriend had betrayed her by lying about wanting her to meet his aunt, only to sell her into the red-light district.
Brave Sampriti, refusing to succumb, escaped and returned to her village only two days later.
Unfortunately, her boyfriend had already spread the news of her presence in Sonagachi, tarnishing her reputation. The villagers viewed her as an outcast and ostracized her. In this vulnerable state, a man who seemed like a police officer forced her into a car and raped her.
Misfortune continued to haunt her as her boyfriend arranged for another man to take her to Delhi—nearly 1,000 miles away—luring her with a fake job opportunity which yet again turned out to be a brothel. After two months, she was relocated back to Sonagachi, where she spent the next 26 days until IJM intervened and helped rescue her.
Courageous Pursuit of Justice
In freedom, Sampriti was placed in a shelter home to help her heal in a safe environment. During her journey of healing from her traumatic past, IJM staff regularly counselled her. Subsequently, Sampriti opened up about the harrowing experiences she had endured in the brothels and grew in her own confidence.
Driven by her determination to seek justice, Sampriti worked with IJM and the Kolkata police to rescue other minor girls and arrest more perpetrators.
She accompanied authorities to each location where she had been exploited, leading to the arrest of two perpetrators and the rescue of four minor girls who served as witnesses in the case.
“She was sharp! She remembered all the routes accurately and led the team courageously, without giving up”, affirms an IJM staff member.
The trial journey was long and challenging, spanning over nine years. The presiding judges were frequently transferred, and the Covid-19 pandemic shut down courts for months at a time.
The accused individuals repeatedly sought bail, filing applications before both the Trial Court and the High Court in Kolkata. While two of the accused managed to secure bail from the Trial Court, it was rejected for the remaining offenders.
Throughout the legal proceedings, Sampriti demonstrated tremendous courage and resilience. Nineteen testimonies from Sampriti, along with 26 other witnesses and eight judges later, justice was served.
Sampriti heaved a sigh of relief when she heard about her traffickers’ conviction. She said: “Last Eid when I went to visit my parents in my native village, (the offender’s) son threatened me with dire consequences. I decided not to go again.
"Now I’m relieved and can live my own life on my own terms. Though it took some time I’m happy that they will face the consequences for their actions. In this journey, I got IJM with me all along.”
This conviction of offenders demonstrates the firm stand of West Bengal’s justice system: sex trafficking of minors will not be tolerated and those responsible will face severe consequences.