Dr. Sunitha Krishnan – WOMAN of ACTION™



A Celebration of Women™

is elated to Celebrate the Life of this most amazing woman of caring, compassion and courage. Not only has she suffered at the hands of those with complete ignorance to human decency; she rose above her own circumstance to create an organization designed to save young girls from human trafficking so to better their lives, nurture them back to health so to grow forward future women leaders.






  Dr Sunitha Krishnan


Dr Sunitha Krishnan, Social Activist & Reformer: A Lady who herself has a harrowing tale to tell, but instead picked it up & fought with this indifferent society to come winner. Born in 1969, she is an Indian social activist and chief functionary and co-founder of Prajwala, an institution that assists trafficked women and girls find shelter.

The organization also helps pay for the education of five thousand children infected with HIV/AIDS in Hyderabad. Prajwala’s “second-generation” prevention program operates in 17 transition centers and has served thousands of children of prostituted mothers.

The NGO’s strategy is to remove women from brothels by giving their children educational and career opportunities. Krishnan and her staff train survivors in carpentry, welding, printing, masonry and housekeeping. She admitted that rescuing girls is never a very safe business, sharing that she can no longer hear out of her right ear, and that she has been beaten up during interventions more than a dozen times. Her strong voice and powerful body language ensured that no one could claim to have misunderstood her points.



sunitha global voices““Born in a poor family in Pileru, Chittoor District of Andhra Pradesh, instead of going to school Bhavani worked with her parents, who were landless laborers. Her family of eleven consisted of six sisters and three brothers.

On the assurance of a maternal cousin, 12-year old Bhavani was married to Amar who worked in Delhi. “Even though I was young I felt very happy to get married as they gave my parents lot of money and took care of the marriage expenses. ” After the marriage, Bhavani and her husband accompanied by the cousin left for Delhi.

On reaching New Delhi Railway Station, Amar asked Bhavani to stay with her cousin till he made arrangements for family accommodation. Her cousin’s house turned out to be a brothel on G B Road the red light area in New Delhi. Bhavani’s ordeal began the very next day when she was asked to cater to a customer. She then came to know that she had been sold for a sum of Rs.45,000/- (USD 1000.00).

Interacting with other girls she realized that her ‘husband’ had married ‘twelve times’ in that year alone.

Her resistance to be initiated was met with a lot of beatings and starvation. After seven days of struggle Bhavani gave in. After five abortions and innumerable sexually transmitted infections, Bhavani today at the age of 17 yrs is rescued and “HIV positive.

Hundreds of thousands of young adults and children are traded for flesh trade in the guise of jobs, marriage, film roles, modeling and love. More often than not these traders of human misery are not strangers to the victims.

Criminal conspiracy to exploit human vulnerability is at the core of human trafficking.Trafficking in women and children is one of the worst forms of violation of human rights – a form of modern day slavery where the victim is subjected to violence, violation of personal integrity and total humiliation, without any hope of succor. The victim of such devastating violence may also end up with life threatening HIV/AIDS or a lifetime of trauma and personality disintegration.


The philosophy of Prajwala evolved based on the need of women and children who are victims of trafficking.  

Prajwala emerged as an anti-trafficking organization, which believes in preventing women and children from entering prostitution, which is the worst form of sexual slavery.

Trafficking is thus a violation of several human rights – among them, the very right to life, the right to liberty and security of person, the right to freedom from torture or cruelty, inhuman or degrading treatment, the right to a home and family, the right to education and proper employment, the right to health care – everything that makes for a life with dignity.Today, sex trafficking in women and children is one of the fastest growing areas of national and international criminal activity. It has created a complex criminal network – at times, with the patronage of those in power. Lack of suitable laws and law enforcement machinery add to the problem.

One of the oldest red light areas of Hyderabad city was evacuated in the year 1996. Thousands of women in prostitution were suddenly uprooted and displaced, this forced them to look at their lives very closely and introspect about the insecure status of their children. The plea of the mothers for a dignified future for their children made Bro Jose Vetticatil and Dr Sunitha Krishnan two visionaries to come together and initiate an intervention(Prajwala) for PREVENTION THROUGH EDUCATION.

sunitha children savedThe enormity of the situation and the vastness of the task did not stop Prajwala from making a small initiative. At this point of time Prajwala responded and intervened to start a small education program in the form of a transition center with the participation of women in prostitution. The process of interaction with the women posed a threat to the traffickers, the middle-men, and the brokers, which led to a long challenge and struggle for the core team of Prajwala.

The founders Dr.Sunitha Krishnan and Bro.Jose Vetticatil were faced with life threatening situations a number of times, which they braved through with the conviction that an alternative is possible.

The journey of Prajwala commenced with full conviction and faith in people’s participation in the process of change. Although women were concerned about the children, they were not ready for partnership. Prajwala initially had problems in convincing the mothers to become partners and participate to bring about a change in their lives. But eventually they saw the logic and got completely involved in supporting an intervention which will help their children integrate in the mainstream society.

As the journey progressed, Prajwala was faced with the challenge of responding to other related issues such as sex trafficking of children. Out of no choice it became imperative to find ways to intervene. As the needs expanded so also the evolution of other interventions such as rescue, rehabilitation, reintegration and community based prevention.


SunithaKrishnanVictims of sex trafficking, subjected to sexual violence, go through irreversible sychological damage and are vulnerable to be infected by a range of sexually transmitted infections. Most often the issue of reintegration with the family becomes a distant reality as families are reluctant to accept responsibility for the child’s upbringing fearing negative societal impact or many a times it is difficult to reunite the victim with the family as they might be the traffickers themselves. This aspect combined with HIV/AIDS completes the cycle of rejection.

Therefore in the process of rehabilitation there is also a need for temporary and institutional care as a primary means of protection of the victim. Over a period of time with adequate mental health intervention and economic empowerment the victim as a rehabilitated young adult could be prepared for reintegration.

Regardless of the age of a victim, healing has to be looked at from a holistic perspective. The psychological impact of sex trafficking on the victims needs a mental health intervention which involves counseling in an ambience of healing and building capacities of the team to support the healing process. This has to be translated to tangible evidence based processes which validate self esteem & self confidence. Therefore rehabilitation is essentially a blend of psychological, economic & civic identity.



  • Prajwala is a member of various national and state level committees to combat trafficking. For its efforts in the sector the organization has been recognized by various national and international bodies like Government of India, World of Children, UNFPA and Ashoka Innovators.
  • Anamika – The Nameless a film produced by Prajwala won two international awards in De Cine De Granada and Action Cut International Film Festival.
  • Of Freedom and Fear a film produced in collaboration with Andhra Pradesh AIDS Control Society was screened in the New York Film Festival, Mini DV International Festival.
  • Dr Sunitha Krishnan the founder general secretary and the chief functionary of Prajwala has been recognised for her efforts in the anti trafficking sector by the following national and international bodies
  • Prajwala won the prestigious AGFUND International award in April, 2008 for its pioneering work to Combat Trafficking of Women and Children through Community Partnership. Prajwala was adjudged the best project in the world for its outstanding efforts.
  • Dr Sunitha Krishnan the chief functionary and co-founder of Prajwala won the ‘Real Heroes Award’ constituted by Reliance Industries Limited and CNN-IBN Network in April, 2008. This award is meant to recognize the unsung heroes of independent India.
  • Dr.Sunitha Krishnan, Chief Functionary of the organization was felicitated by Intelligence Business Network, Malaysia in March 2009. This felicitation has had a great positive impact as an entry point was created to sensitize women corporate leaders to be sensitive on the issue of trafficking.
  • Prajwala received the National Award for Child Welfare from the Govt. of India in February, 09 for the exceptional services it renders to prevent child trafficking and its outstanding efforts to rescue and rehabilitate child victims of sex trafficking.
  • Dr.Sunitha Krishnan has been featured as a Real Hero in the Trafficking in Persons Report, released by the US Department of State in June, 2009. This is an acknowledgment of activists fighting to end modern day slavery – Nine persons from across the world were chosen as 2009 TIP Heroes.



10Every victim has a right to be rescued. But the trafficking process desensitizes a victim forcing her to lose trust and faith in all support systems.

It is this reason that makes a victim look at the process of rescue with distrust.

In fact, many times rescues done in collaboration with the law enforcers end up with a hostile victim.

Prajwala got into rescues in early 1998 in response to the information given by mothers who were also women in prostitution.

Earlier all the rescues were undertaken by Prajwala team members directly but today with lot more sensitization of the mothers the rescues are done by them and Prajwala largely looks after the rehabilitation process.

sunitha advimg6Due to the community involvement it was a difficult process to go to the law enforcers for support, but today Prajwala also does a lot of rescue with police support.

Two interventions are grounded to facilitate rescue work.

At 4 feet 6 inches, anti-trafficking crusader Sunitha Krishnan is a gentle giant of sorts, fighting against sex slavery and bringing hope to the countless and nameless survivors. In this moving talk, Sunitha tells her story of acceptance, and how real change can come only when there is inclusion of all in society.

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ABOUT SUNITHA KRISHNAN: Sunitha Krishnan, Founder and Director of Prajwala, or “an eternal flame”, is an eminent anti-trafficking activist internationally known for her fight against girl child trafficking for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation. A mental health professional, she has done extensive research and is essentially a field practitioner. Prajwala runs 17 schools throughout Andhra Pradesh, India, for 6,000 children and has rescued more than 4,200 women from prostitution, 2,100 of whom Sunitha personally liberated. Sunitha has sparked India’s anti-trafficking movement by coordinating government, corporations and NGOs. She forged NGO-corporate partnerships with various companies to find jobs for rehabilitated women. Sunitha works closely with the Indian government to define anti-trafficking policy, and her recommendations for rehabilitating sex victims have been passed into state legislations.

For any long term systemic change to happen, policy framework and policy input is necessary otherwise civil society intervention largely end up as reactionary process without long term impact.

It is with this objective in mind Prajwala got into advocacy work lobbying for policy changes at the state, national and international levels.

Both policy and legal lobbying is done to bring systemic changes.

Twitter @sunitha_krishnan

Sunitha’s BLOG

Dr. Sunitha Krishnan – Facebook

Dr. Sunitha Krishnan for Nobel Peace Prize – Facebook

Nominated by: Meetika Srivastava


A Celebration of Women™

welcomes this powerhouse into our global Alumni with open arms,

looking forward to future collaboration in bettering the lives for all women and girls.


Brava Sunitha!



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