//Kolkata sex workers seek recognition as labourers

Kolkata sex workers seek recognition as labourers

01 May 2006 # ANI

Kolkata: The ‘City of Joy’, Kolkata, chimed with the cry for justice on Monday as thousands of sex workers holding torches and dressed in vibrant red, marched through the city seeking recognition as labourers on the occasion of World Labour Day.

The sex workers accused the government of violating their human rights and expressed their opposition to a recent move to amend the existing Immoral Trafficking Prevention (ITP) Act, which imposes a six-month jail and hefty penalty on those visiting brothels.

The legislation, they said, would pave way for an even worse life for them.

"If they (State authorities) are going to ignore or clamp down on Prostitution then what will happen? The sex workers will be forced back into the ancient brothel system, where they will have no say, will be like slaves in the hands of the pimps and madams, who bribe the police. This will force the workers to consent to everything, including sex without condoms," said Mrinal Kanti Dutta, son of a sex worker who now runs a voluntary organisation for their welfare.

"We want to be recognised as labourers, as workers. The rights given to workers in our Parliament should also be given to us as sex workers who provide service to the people," Sapna Gayen, a 28-year-old sex worker, added.

Women’s rights groups have been demanding a legislation to ensure labour status for the prostitutes for over nearly a decade, but to no avail.

Prostitution is outlawed in the country despite which there are more than two million sex workers living on the fringes of society. They have few rights and abuses by both customers and the police are common for them.

Termed as the "red light areas", women here can be hired for as little as two dollars.

Many prostitutes are pushed into the trade by traffickers and by poverty and some, including thousands of girls smuggled in from Nepal and Bangladesh each year, are held as sex slaves for a decade or more.

Most girls, with no social backup, face extreme violence and exploitation at the hands of middlemen, who use them as easy extortion targets and their children, refused admission into schools and denied jobs, fall prey to drugs with the girls eventually following their mothers.

Estimates by voluntary groups show at least 600,000 minors are also employed in the profession and their number is said to be increasing by almost 10 percent every year.

Experts further warn commercial sex is one of the main drivers of the spread of HIV/AIDS and India has more than 5.2 million reported cases of people living with the virus.