Niya* lost her parents when she was only two years old and was raised by her grandmother in her native village in Bihar. When Niya was in the ninth grade, she received a phone call from an unknown number on her grandmother’s phone.
A call, in hindsight, she wished she never answered.
The boy on the phone showed an interest in Niya and began asking questions about her personal life. The first few times she ended the call, telling him he had the wrong number. But, he was very persistent.
Unfortunately, in the days and weeks that followed, Niya let her guard down and began to engage in extended conversations with the boy. She began to view him as a trusted friend and developed a romantic interest in him. He convinced her to travel to Howrah, West Bengal, India where he promised to marry her.
Howrah Station, Kolkata, West Bengal, India
At the age of 16 years old, Niya left for the railway station without telling her grandmother and boarded a train to Howrah. When Ninya arrived, her dream of meeting her future husband turned into a nightmare. The boy took her to a local hotel where he sexually assaulted her. He held her against her will in the room for two days. On the third day, a woman entered and introduced herself as his sister. She took Niya to Malda (a district in West Bengal, north of Howrah) and sold her to Seema* a brothel owner in a red-light area there.
Seema – the brothel owner
Niya was shocked when Seema told her that she would have to engage with customers in commercial sex work to sustain herself. Though Niya initially resisted, she was eventually forced by Seema into commercial sexual exploitation. Seema monitored Niya closely, confining her to the brothel premises and preventing her from interacting with outsiders. Niya had no way of contacting her grandmother and no one she could turn to for help. For five months, Ninya was sexually exploited multiple times a day for as little as $7, which was collected by Seema.
Thankfully, everything changed for Niya on September 13, 2019. A rescue team of police officials, JVI staff and a local NGO partner were deployed to the brothel.
During the rescue, Seema claimed that she was Niya’s mother. She was eventually arrested by police officials despite her false claim. Approximately $800 was seized from the brothel premises.
Cash seized by police officials during the rescue operation
Niya was taken to the local hospital for an evaluation, then transported to a children’s home where she is receiving care and counseling. Aftercare staff are providing additional trauma support while making arrangements with Niya’s grandmother for reunification.
Seema has been remanded to judicial custody and JVI lawyers are working closely with the district administration and local police to ensure criminal charges are filed against her and the boy who trafficked Niya.
JVI and local partners will ensure that Niya enjoys sustained freedom and receives appropriate recovery assistance, education and compensation through government benefits for trafficked survivors. JVI lawyers will also represent Niya’s case in court to secure justice for her and ensure her perpetrators will be held accountable for their crimes.
*names changed to protect confidentiality