JWT Is Training Former Underage Sex Workers in India for Careers in Law

School for Justice turns prostitutes into prosecutors

In recent years, underage sex trafficking has run rampant in India, with as many as 1.2 million children—some as young as 7—forced to serve as prostitutes. Yet, only a handful of cases leading to convictions are ever brought to trial. (That number was 55 in 2015, the most recent year for which statistics are available.)

J. Walter Thompson Amsterdam believes education will help solve the problem, but raising public awareness is just one element of an initiative the agency rolled out this week with social rights organization Free a Girl Movement.

Dubbed “School for Justice,” the program seeks to make a real-world impact by educating some of the young women who previously worked in brothels, providing them with training geared toward a career in law.

Nineteen former underage sex workers between the ages of 19 and 26 began their studies this week. JWT hopes that one day they may become prosecutors, or even judges, empowered to combat the criminals who once exploited and abused them.

“The client came to us with a brief for an awareness campaign for child prostitution in India, aimed at Indian men,” JWT Amsterdam executive creative director Bas Korsten tells Adweek. “After a few concept rounds, the creative team came up with the idea for School for Justice. We presented it, and Free a Girl liked it, although they were aware of the huge implications this approach would have. In close collaboration with them, we worked out the educational program, looked for a physical space, selected the first class of girls, and built the campaign around it.”

Harnessing star power to spread the word, the agency got Bollywood actress and activist Malika Sherawat involved. She discusses School for Justice in the clip below:

Korsten concedes that educating 19 young women might sound like a small start, given the overwhelming scope of the problem. “But it has been challenging to find the first girls with the right education,” he says, “as even though they will receive extra tuition and mentoring, they’ll still have to take exactly the same exams as any other law student in India.”

Korsten stresses that the School for Justice is a long-term commitment.

“The program is already busy providing tutoring for next year’s class to get them up to the necessary level,” he says. “Also, what we are doing is new and pretty radical, so the girls who have signed up are real survivors. It takes a lot of courage, since signing up for this school is not without danger. There have been serious threats, which is also the reason why we’re not disclosing the location of the school. But we believe the first class will inspire many others.”

Depending on their education level and other factors, the students should complete the program and earn their degrees in five or six years. (Owing to issues of security, the project’s law school partner also remains undisclosed.)

School for Justice continues a trend in social campaigns, with agencies seeking to move beyond communications and offer tangible solutions. In fact, this is the third such effort of late from JWT, following recent work on U.S. prosthetics and Venezuelan trade.

Cynics might dismiss these projects as award-show fodder, or even efforts to rehabilitate JWT’s image in the wake of a high-profile discrimination lawsuit against the agency, its ex-CEO and parent company WPP.

Korsten takes umbrage at any such suggestion. “This is not a gesture,” he says, “or an advertising campaign for our office. This idea was conceived on a real brief by a real client.” In fact, “there are plans for opening a School for Justice in Brazil together with Free a Girl. This is not a ‘launch and abandon’ kind of project.”