Sunitha Krishnan is an Indian social activist and co-founder of Prajwala, a non-governmental organization that works towards the rescue, rehabilitation, and reintegration of sex trafficking victims into society. She has been working in the field of anti-trafficking for over 25 years and has rescued and rehabilitated over 17,000 victims of sex trafficking.
Krishnan is also a speaker and trainer on issues related to human trafficking, sexual abuse, and exploitation. She has delivered TED talks on these topics and has also been featured in several documentaries and news articles.
In recognition of her work, Krishnan has been honored with numerous awards, including the Padma Shri, India’s fourth-highest civilian award, and the Mother Teresa Memorial Award for Social Justice.
She began teaching dance to mentally challenged children at 8, and by 12 was working in schools for underprivileged children. She was working with low-caste communities when she was fifteen, and in retaliation she was accosted and sexually assaulted by a group of men. After her social activism began to set her apart, she moved to Hyderabad. There, she met the other founder of Prajwala, a catholic priest by the name of Brother Jose Vettacatil. They founded the organization in 1996. That year, a disaster forced the evacuation of a red-light area. They moved into a vacated home in that area, and set up a school for the second generation, i.e. the children of women who were in the sex trade.
The idea, when Prajwala first began, was to stop the second generation from entering the sex trade, as the first generation had. Today, the organization runs 17 centers throughout the area that still operate in order to save the second generation. They aim to prevent through education, to save the first generation by giving their children educational and vocational opportunities. The organization has over 200 employees, although Dr. Krishnan continues to serve as a volunteer, many of whom are survivors of sex trafficking, and they have helped thousands of women. The organization also has three crisis counseling centers based in police departments, and engages in rescue operations in conjunction with the police.
Dr. Krishnan has been incredibly active in advocacy work as well, drafting various policy recommendations and advising on policy making enterprises at the governmental level. She has also conducted trainings for law enforcement and government officials all throughout India, spreading awareness of the issue of sex trafficking, and helping police members, as well as other parties, understand their role in abolition. In 2009, Dr. Krishnan was honored as a “TIP Report Hero Acting to End Modern Slavery” in recognition of her efforts to combat human trafficking. She continues to advocate, despite numerous attempts on her life, for better policies, and to work with Prajwala to combat sex trafficking. She has spoken at conferences and lectured at universities all around the world on human trafficking.
According to Dr. Sunitha Krishnan,“I’m not asking you all to become Mahatma Gandhis or Martin Luther Kings, or Medha Patkars, or something like that. I’m asking you, in your limited world, can you open your minds? Can you open your hearts? Can you just encompass these people too? Because they are also a part of us. They are also part of this world. I’m asking you, for these children, whose faces you see, they’re no more. They died of AIDS last year. I’m asking you to help them, accept as human beings — not as philanthropy, not as charity, but as human beings who deserve all our support. I’m asking you this because no child, no human being, deserves what these children have gone through.”
In the 2014 TIP Report, India was listed as a Tier 2 country. It is a source, destination, and transit country. Although there is some sex trafficking, bonded labor and forced labor constitute India’s greatest problem. Fueled by historic and cultural class divides, including the mistreatment of the scheduled castes, ninety percent of trafficking occurs within India’s borders.