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A crusader born of trafficking torment

Her poverty-stricken father sold her off for a petty sum; she escaped from the clutches of middlemen only to land in a prostitution ring; but her will was much stronger than her luck.

One year down the line, 15-year-old trafficking victim Aarti Kumari is a social ambassador who actively campaigns against child labour and flesh trade in Ranchi district, a noble role that has not only earned her respect among peers, but also decoration from the national media.

Originally from a village in West Singhbhum, the teenager is currently pursuing ninth grade studies at Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya in Chanho block. With great alacrity, she juggles her crusade and academic course. Her classmates, who Aarti involves in skits and dances to condemn atrocities against children, hail her as the change-maker.

Life hasn’t exactly been a bed of roses for the sprightly ninth grader whose otherwise cheerful face drowns in discomfort whenever someone questions her about her painful past.

“My father is a street vendor. He could not support our family alone,” the doting daughter defended her dad’s actions that robbed her of a decent childhood. She recalled how she and her brother begged on the streets of their village to pitch in.

After her father abandoned her, Aarti fled to Howrah, but was trapped by a trafficker. “I managed to escape the ordeal soon with the help of a few local residents who informed police. I was sent to a shelter there (Howrah) and later brought to Jharkhand by Bharatiya Kisan Sangh (a voluntary outfit),” the girl said and added, “I want to forget the past and look forward in life.”

Does she have a solution to the malaise of human trafficking? “Yes. Every rural family should be guaranteed jobs. Once adults, every girl should be provided skill-based training so that they become independent.”

In Chanho block, Aarti officially campaigns against child labour. “I go to homes and ask parents to send their children to school and not to work. No child should experience my trauma.”

At school, the 15-year-old is a motivator. Says seventh grader Namita Kumari: “Under her (Aarti’s) guidance, we script short plays against child abuse. She inspires us. We are proud of her.”

Mahadev Hansda — the state programme manager of Save the Child, an NGO that tutored Aarti and helped her get admitted to school — said that last year they identified her as the outfit’s child ambassador.

“She has fire in her belly. She has genuine concern for victims of trafficking and child labour. She helps them overcome their trauma. In short, she’s a star who’s again down-to-earth.”

Last month, Aarti was conferred The Amazing Indian award by a leading media house.