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Compensation received by trafficking survivor

On 10th April 2017, human trafficking survivor Shefali* finally received her compensation of ₹ 30,000 after three years of prolonged legal petitions and processes.

Nine years ago, the Kolkata Police and IJM had rescued Shefali from Sonagachi, one of Kolkata’s most notorious red light districts. Trafficked and trapped in the sex trade for over a year, Shefali was only about 16 years and pregnant at the time of her rescue.

Six years later, the court found her trafficker guilty. However, though the trafficker was convicted, Shefali was not granted compensation for the offences committed against her.

“We were very dejected,” remembers Marie Riba, the advocate who supported the case. “We called Shefali and asked if she wanted to go ahead with another fight, even though it would take a long time. She responded: ‘I have never given up my fight in the past, and it does not make sense why I should give up now. I’m ready to fight in this case if you all are willing to help me.’

In 2014, with the assistance offered by IJM appointed lawyers, Shefali began to seek compensation before the Appellate Division of Calcutta High Court. The case was shifted between multiple judges until 10th March 2016, when Honourable Justice Sankar Acharyya of the High Court at Calcutta recommended Shefali to State Legal Services Authority ordering her compensation.   

On 11th July 2016, the final order confirmed that Shefali would receive ₹ 10,000 for injuries suffered and an additional amount of ₹ 20,000 as compensation to aid her rehabilitation (₹30,000 in total). This is the highest amount that can be awarded to a trafficked victim under the West Bengal Victim Compensation Scheme, 2012.

Since 2013, multiple judges have awarded compensation to survivors in West Bengal courts.  However, it is rare for survivors to obtain their compensation after protracted legal procedures. Even when the judge orders compensation, survivors must often overcome multiple hurdles. For instance, survivors would need a bank account to cash the compensation cheques and most often, survivors do not meet this requirement. They also lack the proof of identity that would be required to open a bank account. If the government cheque is not cashed within three months, it is dishonoured. Despite such challenges, Shefali is one of the few survivors to have successfully received the compensation.

Today, Shefali works as a salaried tailor. Her son, now 9 years old, attends school. “I want to give my son the best that I can,” states Shefali. She intends to put the recently granted compensation towards supporting herself and her son.

“With this compensation there is hope for girls just like Shefali,” says Anju Sherpa, Shefali’s aftercare caseworker. “We won’t stop fighting until this becomes the norm and not just the exception for future survivors.”

Says Riba, “From 2007, Shefali has come a long way. When I see her fighting and overcoming the battles in her life, I am inspired to go on…For me, Shefali is not a victim—she is a survivor.”

 

 

*pseudonym used to protect the identity of survivor