Early April, Tim Hofman, a presenter, journalist, poet, columnist and ambassador for Free a Girl flew to India for a particularly just project: The opening of the School for Justice. Photographer Nomad went along with him. Villager stayed sadly behind, but was granted an interview after he came back home to the Netherlands.
School for Justice India
In early April, he left for this emergency relief organization – committed to freeing young girls forced into prostitution and convicting perpetrators – to Mumbai in India. The aim was the opening of a special project: the School for Justice.
A school offering education to girls, who are rescued from forced prostitution, to become lawyers or prosecutors with the aim of addressing the impunity of child prostitution. A very special project on which I interviewed Tim Hofman after he set foot again on Dutch soil.
Tim Hofman, ambassadeur Free a Girl
Tim, you are an ambassador for Free a Girl. Can you tell me why this organization?
“After my first trip to India, where I made a documentary on child prostitution for the Dutch TV Network BNN, I found I could not just leave it at that. I had to do more.
More than just a trip to India back and forth. Free a Girl is an organization with its heart in the right place: they are sincere, fight for a good cause and very important purpose. They are both embracing and raw when needed. What they do goes from entering a brothel and sweaping it clean from children forced into prostitution to something like the School of Justice. I like that.”
You have been to India last week. Can you describe the situation where child prostitution is concerned?
“It’s a poignant situation, there are 1.2 girls in India who are forced into child prostitution, who live in filthy brothels, have been robbed of their family and are sexually exploited everyday and injured for the rest of their lives. 1.2 million! That’s beyond comprehension.
On the other hand, it is stated that in 2015 only (!!!) 95 men were punished by court for their sex actions with children. If you consider that, it leaves you wondering what is wrong with the current legal system in India, but also in their society.”
The value of a young woman in India
What is the value of a (young) woman in India? Why is that so? All the answers turn out to be negative. It’s so sad.”
India is a prudish country with quite a few rules when it comes to contact between the sexes. How do you explain that child prostitution is so common in this country?
Such a situation withstands in a prude society, because precisely that causes a problem. On top of that subjects with a sexual impact like child prostitution are therefor not to be discussed.
‘Sex is hard to discuss’
Sex is difficult to discuss, institutional problems are difficult to discuss. Finally, much of society in India finds it easier to just look away than finding a solution.”
When I say impunity, what do you say?
“99.999999% of the people involved in child prostitution in India.”
Can you describe what you feel being a man when you see the situation in India?
“Frustrated, helpless, anger, sorrow and an incredibly persistent feeling of doing something to make that situation better. It’s complicated, but worth the effort.
A campaign to create awareness about this topic, like the Free a Girl Movement, which now performs the School for Justice in India is extremely valuable. As is their sweep-the- brothels-clean-of forced-labour-method. Followed by a shelter for the girls, assistance and now also legal education. Each pair of open eyes is a great help. Each freed girl is a victory.”
Do you ever confront perpetrators with their actions?
“Yes, we did during the first documentary when we released a girl in cooperation with the police.
And during the last and forthcoming report for Free a Girl, I did so too: I had a pimp of young girls in front of me. I asked him how he thought about himself and whether he realized that he contributed to a system that made people deeply, deeply damaged. He was indifferent about it.”
Can you tell me something about the School of Justice?
“School for Justice is a new initiative of Free a Girl, in which girls freed from prostitution are trained to be a lawyer and prosecutor. At the same time it is an awareness campaign to bring child prostitution under attention.”
Numbers on actual prosecution low
This because the numbers of actual persecution against the number of people involved are absurdly low. Every year, Free a Girl wants to train about 20 freed girls to prosecute offenders using their perspectives and experiences.
These girls are extra persistent, which is needed for a business like this: many cases are dismissed along the way. This year, the first group of girls will start an education for the coming 5 years. The girls for 2020 still all need to be rescued.”
What are the initial qualifications needed for the girls to follow this education?
“A completed high school. The training lasts 5 years. In addition, they are selected for their determination to convict perpetrators.”
Becoming a lawyer
Do you consider it to be a realistic program for these girls to become a lawyer through the School of Justice? Does it not take too long before they can actually mean something?
“To answer the last question first: Absolutely not, it’s very realistic, these girls are very, very driven, have a good back up with the right people supporting them. This can and this will happen.
As for your first question: Indeed, who knows, after five years, it might still take time to get to the right place, partly due to the fact that you must work for the government.
Danger for the girls
And that government is stubborn when it comes to this subject. But if you never start, you will not get anywhere. As far as I am concerned, it might take a 100 years, but this has to be done and if it’s up to the girls and Free a Girl, this will be done.”
Is there any danger for the girls when they do this training if pimps and others concerned hear about it?
“Yes it is so the location of the School of Justice’s education is and remains a secret. Obviously, the offenders are not waiting for people who know what they’re doing and who are more than anyone driven to get them behind bars.
This is also why many lawsuits don’t succeed: many witnesses are threatened or discouraged so they give up.
Are the girls psychologically assisted?
From the minute they are released and as long as they need it.
During your visit, was there a story that made a special impact on you?
“I can’t say one made more of an impression on me than the other. They all have a different story to tell and express it all differently. One becomes timid, the other angry, or very happy because it’s over.
It is a strange and new feeling to speak such girls intently. On the one hand, it makes me so sad, on the other hand, their power gives a lot of positive energy. No matter how crazy that might sound.”
Supporting the girls
What can we do to support those girls?
A number of things: make sure that the problem of minor girls in prostitution and impunity of perpetrators becomes a well know topic. Share the information you see passing by.
This helps to put pressure on the government, for example. Or, if you have any euros to spare, donate to Free a Girl. I promise your money will be well spent.”
Text: Anneke de Bundel – Images: Nicole Franken
Free a Girl, is a NGO dedicated to rescue young girls from forced prostitution and to prosecuting the offenders. The School for Justice is one of their initiatives.