Sex workers seek decriminalisation of work

Sex workers across India have joined hands to launch a national campaign that calls for decriminalisation of sex work besides social recognition.

New Delhi: Sex workers across India have joined hands to launch a national campaign that calls for decriminalisation of sex work besides social recognition and legal rights to help eliminate violence and exploitation from their lives.

Sex workers representatives from 13 states affiliated to All Indian Network of Sex Workers (AINSW) are here for a two-day national consultative meet on "Protection of Dignity and Rights of Sex Workers" that kicked off on Wednesday.

"We realise that the community will have to do a lot of work to ensure that the rights guaranteed by Articles 14-21 of the Constitution become a reality for every sex worker in the country," said Smarajit Jana, advisor of AINSW.

Jana said at the conclusion of their programme they will forward a memorandum to President Pranab Mukherjee.

Participants kickstarted their event by tying rakhis to dignitaries like Barun Mukherjee, a Rajya Sabha MP, Basudev Acharia, a Lok Sabha MP and Avijit Mukherjee, MP and son of President Mukherjee.

"As a new lawmaker I have come to know now that implementation of law in India is a problem and another major problem is the interpretation of law," Avijit Mukherjee said.

"There is no doubt that anybody who gives a service is a worker and every worker has the right to demand for their rights. But unfortunately in our society sex is a taboo. Laws has to be enacted for sex workers and whatever is needed for me to do as a law maker I will help you," he said.

Bharati Dey, the president of AINSW, said, "We have come to the capital with the hope that political leaders from different affiliations will seriously reflect on our concerns. We are hoping to meet President Pranab Mukherjee next month with our demands."

"Lawmakers must realise that sex work cannot be abolished or done away with through coercive action and punitive laws and recognise that they need to engage with deeper structural barriers such as poverty, gender discrimination, social inequities and the incessant violence that marginal communities face," Dey said.

There are over 80 sex workers community based organisations in the country.

The current national consultation, say organisers is aimed at apprising policy makers on issues relating to social protection, livelihoods, the reduction of violence, the enhancement of citizenship rights and access to socio-economic development.

"Our basic demand is to decriminalise sex work, and amend the Immoral Traffic Prevention Act, to adults engaged in sex work have the right to earn and live through the exchange of sexual services. They have to be considered as any other labour and should be mentioned in the work schedule under the Ministry of Labour. This one of the major demand of this organisation," said Jana.

According to figures, there are over three million sex workers across India and they are the ones who maintain their family.

"Today and tomorrow the members of the AINSW will sit with policy makers which include members of Parliament, ministers, social policy makers, representatives from the planning commission to change or to improve present policy environment in the country," said Dey.

While sex work is now outlawed in the country laws impose restrictions on related activities like soliciting in public.

Another major problem which surfaced during the discussion at the conference was atrocities by law enforcement.

"Police conduct raids and manhandle our children. They insult and beat us and treat us inhumanely and often trump up false charges. Violence by the police is major problem in our profession and police are the major beneficiary of trafficking in the country," said Kusum, the general secretary of AINSW.

"To stop immoral trafficking of adult or minor girls a regulatory body formed by sex workers themselves is the need of the hour," she said.