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Mary Sebastian Throws Light On The Realities Of Sex Trafficking Industry And Its Impact

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“They say that we belong to a generation which works from weekend to weekend. So when Monday morning comes, a lot of us are actually looking forward to Friday for the process of unwinding. And, what does this involve? More often than not, it involves ticking going to the restaurant and ticking off from the list that keeps growing every week, sitting in the restaurant and posting about the food while figuring out the text and the tags and obviously enjoying the food which we have worked so hard to devour.”

Mary Sebastian at YKA Summit, 21st December 2019.

On Ending Systemic Exploitation Of Women: Mary Sebastian

Mary Sebastian’s started her talk at YKA Summit’s day two, with this powerful comment on our current generation. She works for the elimination of violence against women and children, with a special focus on victims of sex trafficking, in Maharashtra. She is currently working with a global anti-trafficking organisation, International Justice Mission, where she assists law enforcement officials, in the rescue of survivors of commercial sexual exploitation, and provides legal representation through court proceedings.

She supports systemic interventions and advocacy efforts on the survivor justice-related issues at the state government level and has organised a national level consultation, on the arrest of demand for commercial sexual exploitation. She is currently undertaking a research study with the Maharashtra State Child Rights Protection Commission, to analyse the functioning of childcare agencies, under the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Act, 2015 in six districts in Maharashtra.

After her comment on the present generation, she explained how there’s a bunch of people who’d do anything to get their food delivered so that “they can begin their sacred ritual of binge eating.” She explained how it came to her mind, one day while binge eating, that the meagre amount of 200-300 rupees that she uses to buy comfort food is the exact same amount which is used to buy a victim of sex trafficking. She reiterates, that the amount used by her, to indulge herself for a weekend, is the same cost for which a victim will face trauma for the rest of her life.

It is difficult to explain the nature and impact of this crime in the right words because it is omnipresent, violent and traumatising. “When we’ve advanced so much in technology, when we’ve advanced so much in every other field, it is actually unconscionable that we even allow this crime to exist,” Sebastian says.

We’ve moved away from slavery and the old times, but this crime still exists which violates human rights in one of the most brutal ways. She has been working for an organisation which has been working in this area for almost 20 years, day after day, protecting the rights of the victims.

She describes how this process doesn’t actually work in isolation. It includes fieldwork, rescuing, rehabilitating and sustainably restoring these survivors. It cannot be done in isolation, because it operates in conjunction with law enforcement, social services, the public prosecutors and the judges. The understanding of minute details and nuances are important for tackling this crime.

Sex Trafficking – A Travesty On Human Rights

Sebastian threw light on the reality of the situation of sex trafficking survivors, through the examples of Lara and Abha; their stories of being forced into the racket of sex trafficking and ending up in brothels. She explained how these cases generally begin with a fake story or a love affair, in cases of men misguiding women, and a promise of opportunities and a better future.

The stories of Lara and Abha showed how young girls of the ages 12–13 are sold off to brothels, forced to serve the clients in the sex trade, blackmailed while their innocence is stolen all along. Sebastian explained everything that sex trafficking is about: systematic rape, rape for profit; it is when the dignity of an individual is pulverized for monetary gains of another person, a travesty on human rights.

She explained the three stages of sex trafficking: acquisition, movement and exploitation. The example of placing an order on Amazon and the process followed throughout served to explain similarities in how modern-day sex trafficking works. Earlier, it was a more traditional method of plotting and planning, where the targeted victim is manipulated, and then sent off to brothels after drugging them. The new method instead uses modern technology, like WhatsApp, which makes it difficult to find such settlements. The setup has now moved from physical place/settlements to online platforms, making it extremely difficult to catch them.

Sebastian explained the conditioning period of these victims, forced into sex work and brothels, where the will and resistance are completely broken. She says, “The victim is drugged, brutally raped, humiliated and exploited, day after day, to the moment where she cannot retaliate anymore and that’s when you know you’ve broken her spirit.” As audiences, it was painful to listen to the statement- “She will be confined, and she will do whatever it takes after that because everything is painful and there is absolutely no hope in it.”

“Stories of Lara and Abha are not uncommon,” she explained, because sex racket is a 34 billion dollars industry, it is not just about the cases, but more of a question of the mindset of people. The only solution to this is a radical change in our mindset. She asks, “What are we doing as a society to address that?”

She concluded with a power-packed statement, “It’s easy to be sounding intellectual, it’s hard to get things done.” and urged the youth to “Get off the sidelines and get involved.”

If you are a survivor, parent or guardian who wants to seek help for child sexual abuse, or know someone who might, you can dial 1098 for CHILDLINE (a 24-hour national helpline) or email them at You can also call NGO Arpan on their helpline 091-98190-86444, for counselling support.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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