The Free A Girl Movement: How Funders are Helping Women Go From Prostitution to Prosecution

The School for Justice is helping formerly trafficked women and girls in Mumbai, India become agents of justice.

How is Bollywood actor and activist Mallika Sherawat helping girls escape lives of sex trafficking? One girl at a time, by enrolling them in the School for Justice.

Sherawat is an ambassador of the Free a Girl Movement and a supporter of the School for Justice, opening today in Mumbai, India.

But freeing the girls is only part of the story. The larger part of social change being driven by Mallika Sherawat and other community activists in India is about correcting the systems of justice that do not prevent the crimes from happening again. Here’s how Mallika Sherawat explains it: “By freeing the girls, we’re not changing the system that allows this crime to happen. To break this cycle, we will attack a key factor: the fact that the perpetrators are not being punished. Because they are not punished, they can continue with their crimes.”

Mallika Sherawat

Sherawat is asking other donors and activists to come on board and support the School for Justice. “Help the victims turn their anger at this injustice into a force for good – and a furious determination to put everyone involved in child prostitution behind bars,” said Sherawat.

Mallika Sherawat has an interesting early life story. Born “Reema Lamba” in a small village in India, Sherawat changed her name to “Mallika,” meaning “empress” so as not to be confused with another actress. According to Wikipedia, Sherawat uses her mother’s maiden name rather than her birth last name, in honor of the support she has received from her mother.

Now, as an advocate for empowering women and girls to escape sex trafficking, Sherawat is helping the School for Justice open its doors.

The School for Justice plans to remove underage girls from brothels in India and “train them to be lawyers and prosecutors with the power to ensure the criminals who force them into sex work are punished,” according to a press release about the school’s opening. 

Who else is behind this bold new approach? The School for Justice has been created by a “leading global creative team,” headed by the advertising agency J. Walter Thompson Amsterdam, which developed the idea of the school.

The School for Justice will be housed within “one of India’s most respected law universities” and will provide “support, tuition and mentoring that the girls need to reach university level.” The vision of the school is to prepare girls for entering into college for law, and ultimately advancing to become the prosecutors who will challenge India’s legal system from within.

A student at the School for Justice in Mumbai, India.

The scope of the problem is vast. An estimated 1.2 million children are forced into prostitution in India, yet only 55 legal cases against these crimes led to convictions.

Francis Gracias, CEO of the Free a Girl Movement called the School for Justice an “ambitious” project, but one that is necessary to address the root problem of sex trafficking in India. “We appeal to all of India to get behind The School for Justice and support our cause – as we can’t do this alone. Ultimately we want governmental support and to build up a robust advocacy programme to push for law reform to make a positive change for India,” said Gracias.

Initially, nineteen girls are being taught in the School of Justice, with plans to increase the class size in 2018. Learn more about the School for Justice here.