Do you think India should give sex workers rights and aid, or just aid? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!
“I need work, not aid.” – Mumtaz, sex worker living in Mumbai.
The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically reduced sex workers’ income, leaving some unable to provide for themselves and their families. Supiya, a sex worker in Mumbai, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation this week “I am getting customers once in two days now and making about 150 rupees ($2) per client. How will I survive on this?”
In the midst of the pandemic, a U-turn from India’s National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has plunged sex workers into further uncertainty.
The NHRC had initially advised that sex workers should be recognized as informal workers. In so doing, sex workers would be able to access financial support from state governments and aid from a $23 billion fund.
But the NHRC this week reversed its initial opinion, instead issuing a statement recommending sex workers not be recognized as workers but given aid on “humanitarian grounds.”
Pressure from campaigners who questioned the initial advisory and raised concerns around the legitimization of sex trafficking, prompted the U-turn.
The Thomson Reuters Foundation reports:
Prostitution is legal in India but most related activities such as soliciting, pimping, and running a brothel are crimes.
“If they are not defined as workers, it is a failure to recognise the work they do to earn their livelihood and feed their families,” said Smarajit Jana, founder of Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee, a collective of sex workers in Kolkata.
“This is a setback … they will not be recognised as full-fledged citizens of the country, having full access to various citizenship documents and right to social and development schemes,” added Jana, whose group represents 65,000 sex workers.
Anti-trafficking campaigners like Sunitha Krishnan, founder of anti-trafficking charity Prajwala, said “Running a brothel is illegal. Giving women their workers’ rights completely misses the mark … brothels have a large number of trafficked women or those (who are) coerced.”
However, this view is contested by sex worker advocates who posit that the majority of sex workers aren’t victims of exploitation but are made vulnerable to abuse through a lack of rights and protection.
The debate over sex workers’ rights and prostitution in India, within and outside the anti-trafficking space, remains a polarizing issue, affecting the lives of thousands.
What should be clear is that sex workers, like any group affected by decisions on their rights, must be consulted, listened to and empowered if we are to see just laws governing their rights.
What are your thoughts? Leave a comment below!
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