11/01/2019, 08.10
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Sr Annie Jesus Mary’s fight against sexual slavery is her 'crusade'

In Chhattisgarh, the nun founded an NGO that rescues tribal victims of trafficking. Thanks to the self-help network she set up, she has saved 143 girls and 68 boys from brothels since 2003. The story of two teenage sisters, raped and sold for a few dollars by unscrupulous traffickers, is a case in point.

New Delhi (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Two sisters from Chhattisgarh, 16 and 19 respectively, were sold into sexual slavery for a few hundred dollars to serve customers in Pune and Goa. Sister Annie Jesus Mary, a nun with the Franciscan missionaries of Mary, rescued them.

Nicknamed the “crusader nun” for her fight against human trafficking since the early 2000s, she has worked especially among disadvantaged tribal groups.

In 2003 the Franciscan Sister founded Jeevan Jharna Vikas Sanstha (Foundation for the progress of life stream, JJVS), an NGO that rescues trafficked women and victims of violence, minors and the poor. Based in Kansabel, Jashpur District (Chhattisgarh), the association's work also extends into Jharkhand and Orissa.

The two sisters she saved are ethnic Bhil, a tribal group, and hail from Kerasa, a village in Surguja district. Traffickers “exploit extreme tribal poverty,” she explains, “and know how to entice and blackmail naïve girls.”

This is what Kaleshwar Paingra, who hails from the village of Sahibavna, did to convince the sisters with the promise of money and gifts. On 6 September, he convinced them to leave their home around midnight, asking them to meet his agents.

The latter took them into the forest, raped them, and separately took them by trains to Goa and Maharashtra where they were sold to two brothels for 27,000 (US$ 380) and 18,000 rupees (US$ 255) respectively.

The abduction was supposed to remain secret, but the self-help network created Sr Annie’s association alerted them about the sisters’ disappearance. The association in turn informed the village committees in Kerasa and Sahibavna, and helped the parents of the young women to file a missing person report at the Kansabel police station.

Eventually the sex traffickers were caught and forced to bring the girls home on 13 October. After they were freed, the sisters went to a half-way house for initial counselling and recuperation. The dedicated facility helped the sisters begin coping with the violence and trauma they suffered.

"Now they are home with their parents and will go back to study,” Sr Annie said, and “have been enrolled in tailoring and embroidery at the JJVS campus.”

Over the years, the JJVS has rescued and rehabilitated 143 girls and 68 boys. In the last five years, it has organised programmes, courses and seminars in 180 villages in 71 districts (panchayat), raising awareness among students and teachers in 63 schools.

For her work, Sr Annie received this year’s Jijabai Achievers Award, a prize given by the University of Delhi, for achieving a viable impact among the poor.

Previously, in March 2018, Indian President Ram Nath Kovind had presented her with the Women Empowerment Award by the Union Ministry for Women's and Child Development.

For the nun however, her work will go on. Sadly, “traffickers will continue to target tribal communities in Chhattisgarh unless their economic condition is improved.”

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