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Trafficking survivors overcome HS hurdle

Alipore: She dreams of being a lawyer. A first-division score in this year's Higher Secondary examination has taken the 17-year-old from Ghutiari Sharif in South 24-Parganas a step closer to her dream.

Two years ago, she had quit studies after being rescued, along with her best friend and neighbour, from the clutches of traffickers.

The besties had been returning from school when they were kidnapped from near their home in 2016. They were taken to Sealdah station and put on a train to Delhi but managed to escape.

"The traffickers were unknown to us. They used scented towels to make us unconscious," the girl said.

The two were still drowsy when they boarded the train but the friend regained consciousness soon after. "I woke my friend up and we jumped off the train just before it started," said the friend, who has passed HS in second division.

At the station, the girls called up the helpline of Goranbose Gram Bikash Kendra, a Canning-based NGO that had conducted workshops in their school. Help arrived soon.

It took months for the girls to get over the trauma. They would remain holed up at home and refused to go to school. "Months of counselling finally gave the girls the courage to step out. We got them enrolled with Bandhan Mukti, a support group for rescued victims," a social worker with the NGO said.

Meeting other trafficking survivors helped build confidence. "I heard stories of girls in a similar plight. Soon I was comforting others. I realised I had to study and make people aware of their rights," said the girl, whose father works at a leather factory in Park Circus and earns around Rs 5,000-Rs 6,000 a month.

Her friend lives with her mother, who earns around Rs 4,000 a month at a factory.

Back in school, the girls won scholarships under the women and child development ministry's Swayamsiddha scheme.

The once-scarred friends are now a power duo. From counselling trafficked victims and encouraging them to study to preventing child marriages they have been active members of their support group.

"Fifty per cent of our friends were being married off after Class X," said the girl. "I have stopped three child marriages," added her friend.

The girls have travelled to other blocks in South-24 Parganas to spread awareness and stop child marriage. "After listening to our advice at a workshop, a girl called our helpline to report a stalker. I am glad she reached out for help instead of living in fear," said the girl, who hopes to study law. Her friend wants to be a social worker and empower people.

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