2006 HEALTH AWARD
While studying psychiatric social work in college, Sunitha Krishnan, Ph.D., acquired a fervent desire to save and to better the lives of the oppressed children in India. 14 years ago, at age 20, she began to make strides to undo the tight network of sex-offenders that continues to flourish to this day, an industry that enslaves and exploits hundreds of thousands of children. A study of the major cities throughout India revealed that nearly one million children under 18 have been sold, tricked or kidnapped to work in the dangerous brothels of the red light districts. A majority of women over 18, who had been rescued from prostitution, were trafficked as children.
Sunitha Krishnan decided to take matters into her own hands and created an organization called Prajwala, which means “eternal flame.” Prajwala’s programs account for every aspect of the rescue and rehabilitation of victims of child exploitation. Krishnan works with a complex association of informers who have infiltrated the prostitution industry to detect and identify when children who are being trafficked. Once the children are rescued, Prajwala provides a home for them, where they can be reunited with their parents who often stay to support them during the rehabilitation process. There they are surrounded with everything necessary to reintegrate them into society including therapy, education, vocational training, and practical essentials such as government housing and ration cards.
In addition, many who come to Prajwala suffer from HIV and are given medical and psychological treatment. As soon as the children move back out on their own, they are connected to reintegration programs on the local level to prevent them from being victimized again. To date, over 5,000 children have been helped through Krishnan’s efforts to obliterate the exploitation industry. Her example has impacted other red-light districts throughout South Asia, where the government has begun to facilitate a state rescue policy. She has also spread international awareness, by contributing to numerous documentaries including “Anamika-The Nameless,” which won the Action Cut International Film Festival award for Best Foreign Film in De Cine Granada.