- Lack of financial resources to support oneself or family
- Dissolution of marriage or death of husband
- Rejected by families
- Mother is a sex worker
- Any relative from the same profession
- Lured by prospects and pleasures
- College goers with a fancy for extravagant life
- Duped by friends and guardians as pimps
- Sold by lovers and husbands
Whether foul play or fair justice, prostitution transcends all form of defined perception and verdict in India.
The Rescue Foundation
Liberating sex slaves in India
Within hours of arriving in Mumbai, Neetu found herself in a world unlike anything she could have imagined. A world of threats and violence in dark alleys and hidden rooms filled with cramped and brutalized bodies – the world of stolen women. ‘Night was like day. Day was like night,’ recalls Neetu.
Young, fair-skinned and beautiful, Neetu is one of an estimated 12,000 girls and women that the UN’s International Labour Organization believes are trafficked every year from Nepal to work in the brothels of India’s megacities. Other agencies believe the figure to be much higher. In Mumbai alone there may be as many as 35,000 Nepali girls working in the city’s notorious red-light district, giving Nepal the dubious distinction of being the largest exporter of trafficked women in South Asia. Many are tricked into leaving their homes with the promise of a well-paid job. Some are abducted. Others are sold by their own families. In Neetu’s case, the brother and husband of one of her closest friends delivered her to the brothel. ‘They loved me so much that I never suspected foul play,’ she remembers.
Once there, she avoided looking clients in the eye in the hope that she wouldn’t be selected – a tactic which resulted in regular punishment by the brothel owner. ‘[The owner] said that if I was not selected by customers often, I would not be able to pay off my debts to her, as she had paid a sum of money to purchase me. I was told that it would take three years for me to pay off my debts.’ Neetu earned the equivalent of $3.70 per client, of which she was able to keep 22 cents for herself. And so it continued: four or five clients per day, every day, for over two years.
UNICEF estimates that 1.2 million children are trafficked across international borders each year. Most of these are trafficked for the purposes of prostitution. According to Save the Children India, clients now prefer 10- to 12-year-old girls. The soaring number of prostitutes believed to have contracted HIV in India’s brothels has helped give India the second-largest number of people living with HIV/AIDS in the world, just behind South Africa. Yet the trafficking of women from Nepal, Bangladesh and from the rural areas of India into the brothels of the big city is a blight that has gone largely unnoticed amongst India’s politicians and police forces.
Triveni Acharaya is confronting this apathy. ‘Being a woman, I could feel the pain of the victims,’ she explains. A journalist with one of India’s oldest newspapers, Triveni gave up her job last year to head-up the Rescue Foundation: one of a handful of organizations in India to tackle this abuse head on. She and her team face daily threats from pimps, brothel owners and criminals who stand to lose out from the type of attention that she gives their industry. After all, it is widely regarded as the third most profitable income stream in the world for organized crime (just behind drugs and gun smuggling).
‘Rescuing girls is a very risky job,’ says Triveni. ‘Often it represents a loss of nearly 20 lakh rupees ($45,000) to the brothel keeper. And in India any Tom, Dick or Harry would kill for [that] sum of money.’ Every step of the rescue process involves risk, from the initial undercover investigation involving pinhole cameras, secret informers and investigators-in-disguise, to the raid by the police on the brothel. But then there is that moment – after weeks of painstaking undercover work – when the girls, often locked away in hidden rooms, emerge from the darkness.
While Triveni now sees hope in Mumbai’s dark alleys, she believes that there is still an enormous amount of work to be done. ‘Special courts of law need to be established in India so that cases of sex trafficking can be expedited and effectively handled.’ The need for such courts is amply demonstrated by the Rescue Foundation’s own figures: of the 500 girls that the team has rescued, only 21 brothel owners have so far been prosecuted successfully. Cost, social stigma and an overburdened legal process are all conspiring to work against the victims of sex trafficking even after their rescue.
Neetu was one of the fortunate ones. By luck, a letter she had written to her parents and given to one of her clients made its way to the Rescue Foundation. Police raided her brothel in October, and she is now in a rehabilitation and vocational training centre run by Triveni’s team.
‘At first I did not have faith in anybody,’ says Neetu. ‘But now, I am studying English and learning computer. I like to be here but ultimately I want to go home. My life at present is in happy transit.’
global women’s news, views and issues
Thousands of young girls in India are forced into prostitution every day. Some of them are as young as ten years. NDTV met one such victim, who was lucky enough to escape. She narrates her plight and that of many others like her still languishing in brothels.
”I was kidnapped from Hyderabad and sold here. I was physically assaulted and forced into prostitution. I was injected so I do not suffer from pain,” said the victim of prostitution.
Over the last 11 months, this girl, has been sold to about 11,000 customers. She is just 15. Kidnapped by an organised gang from her hometown Hyderabad, she was sold in Budhwar Peth, the red light district of Pune for Rs 35,000.
What followed was a nightmare.
There seemed no exit from the hell she was living in but then quite luckily a customer agreed to let her use his mobile phone and she immediately called her family.
Within days, the police had found her.
She was rescued but she says there are thousands of girls like her still trapped inside.
”There are girls even as young as 7-10 years old. As they grow up, they are pushed into this trade,” she added.
Off camera, she also tells us, many police raids are stage managed because most brothel owners are tipped off about the raid.
So the success of the rescue operations are limited.
”In the last one year, we have rescued some 330 girls. Whenever we get information, we conduct a raid and free the girls,” said V T Pawar, Senior Inspector, Faraskhana Police Station.
”It’s true that now more and more young girls are being forced into this profession, as it has been always, because of the demand,” said Tejaswini Sevekari, Director, Saheli.
What is lacking is very close monitoring of such brothels without which thousands of young girls slip through the cracks many of them never to be found.
Child prostitution in India
-- By Sarika Misha
Child labour is not a new phenomenon. It has existed in one form or the other in all historical periods. What is new, however, it its perception as a social problem and its being a matter of social concern.
In older days the child was viewed with a tender feeling and treated with warmth, mercy, and compassion. But the fund of knowledge about the psychophysical needs and the environmental influence impinging on his growth and development was rather meager. The mechanics and dynamics of child development were not adequately and scientifically understood. Today on scientific grounds it can be asserted that work as a direct fulfilment of child's natural abilities and creative potentialities is always conducive to healthy growth but work when taken up as a means for fulfilment of some other needs becomes enslaving in character of a social problem in as much as it hinders, arrests, or distorts the natural growth processes and prevents the child from attaining full blown personality.
The lions share of the value generated by it is appropriated by some one else and the child is left with a fraction that can not meet comfortably even the survival needs.
Child labour is thus defined as work performed by children that either endangers their health or safety, interferes with or prevents education or keeps them from play and other activity important to their development. Child labour of this kind is considered a social evil.
The problem of child labour is a multi-dimensional one as the children from a large segment of the total population. Child prostitution involving both boys and girls is very common today but female child prostitution is more common than male child prostitution.
Termed as the oldest profession, prostitution has become an integral part of 'all sorts' that make the world. Women who resort to this rarely get a sympathetic word from the society and their life is wasted away selling momentary pleasures for a meal and existence in cubby holes called 'cages'. If their plight is pathetic, worse still is that of the child prostitutes.
Today there is existence of 'kid porn' where children and not adults are chosen for sexual exploitation.
Ironically child prostitution is a special category of rigorous case of child labour and it raises more troubling ethical problems than child labour in general.
Many surveys have been conducted to find out the extent of child prostitution. Dr. Gilada's paper on perspectives and positional problems of social intervention" shows that,
"70% of women are forced into prostitution and 20% of these are child prostitutes."
Statistics of the survey done show:-
City Population Prostitute Population
Bombay 10 million 100,000
Calcutta 9 million 100,000
Delhi 7 million 40,000
Agra 3 million 40,000
A survey conducted by Indian Health Organization of a red light area of Bombay shows:-
1. 20% of the one lakh prostitutes are children.
2. 25% of the child prostitutes had been abducted and sold.
3. 6% had been raped and sold.
4. 8% had been sold by their fathers after forcing them into incestuous relationships.
5. 2 lakh minor girls between ages 9yrs-20yrs were brought every year from Nepal to India and 20,000 of them are in Bombay brothels.
6. 15% to 18% are adolescents between 13 yrs and 18 yrs.
7. 15% of the women in prostitution have been sold by their husbands
8. Of 200m suffering from sexually transmitted diseases in the world 50m alone were in India.
9. 15% of them are devdasis.
There are several causes of child prostitution but some of the most important ones are as follows:
1. Devdasi system:- many of the devdasis are the girls who were dedicated to the Goddess Yellamma by their parents at a very young age. They are the servants of God as they are married to the Goddess. This ceremony takes place twice a year. The main one is during the second fortnight of January at Karnatakas Saudatti village in South West of Miraj. Once the girl is married to a Goddess she cannot marry a mortal.
The procurers frequent the place inorder to get the fresh supplies of girls as 4000 to 5000 girls are dedicated every year to the Goddess.
Attaining puberty is a secondary thing as there is a ceremony known as heath Lawni (or touching ceremony) whereby the girl is made over to the highest bidder.
A study revealed that one third, of which three fourth are under fourteen years, are in Bombay's cheapest brothels. They belong to the low castes like Mahars, Matangs, etc. who give low priority to education. They are so poverty stricken that Fathers, brothers and husbands do not hesitate to sell their daughters, sisters and wives.
Prevention of devdasis Act has been in the statute book since 1935 and amended recently but the system continues even today despite governmental ban, Still the girls are dedicated to the Goddess and forced into virtual prostitution and made to entertain males in order to invoke the blessings of the deity.
It was estimated that in Delhi 50% of the prostitutes are devdasis and in Bombay, Pune, Solapur and Sangli. 15% of them are devdasis,
(2) It is also noticed that young and old men prefer young and new girls.
(3) Growing poverty, increasing urbanization, and industrialization, migration, and widespread unemployment, breaking up of joint family system etc. are also responsible for the prevalence and perpetuation of the child prostitution.
(4) The influx of the affluent and not so affluent people from Gulf countries in India has boosted the flesh trade in cities like Bombay, Hyderabad etc. The parents are forced to part with their daughters for as little as 2 rupees tow two thousand in the fond hope that they would get two square meals in the moneyed new world.
(5) Quick marriages without proper knowledge of the bridegroom's family background leading to a divorce initiates the gravitation of girls to the red light area.
(6) Another inaction is after rape. A fifteen years old girl was brought to Dr, Gildas Clinic as she was suffering from the symptoms of an STD she had been raped and sold by a self styled social worker. The poor girl was forced into silence by the threats of dire consequences.
(7) The children are not lured into it but are thrust into it. There was a case of a sixteen years old girl who was sold to a brothel owner by her father following incest. 8% of these girls are victims of incest because of the myth-that one of the causes for an STD is intercourse with a virgin.
(8) Many a times when a child who has lost both his parents is looked after by the relatives and these relatives too force the child into prostitution.
(9) Child marriages are a common phenomenon even today and the bride is very much younger to the bridegroom so the husband drives the innocent wife into prostitution. There is a case where a girl of 13 was married off to a man of thrice her age three months later he abandoned her and married another girl. She returned to her poor parents and three months later a man promised her a good job and took her to Bombay from where he went and sold her to a middle aged woman at Kamatipura for rupees ten thousand and did not come back to take her.
(10) Some of them are lured to Bombay the tinsel town. They dream of stellar roles in films and mostly end up as prostitutes in the cages.
IV. Who are these girls, where then they procured from? How and why?
Tribal Kolta women and girls from Garhwal hills are compelled to become prostitutes to rescue their family from debt bondage. Poverty stricken young girls from Bengal and Nepal are lured with promises of attractive jobs and marriage. The agents came to know about the existing condition in the areas of U. P. Tehri Garhwal. Dehradun etc. The local Rajputs used to keep the men as animals and exploit their wives, sisters and daughters too. The agents were successful in convincing these women well and hence brought them to Delhi and Agra and sold them to the brothels there.
The phenomenon of commercialized trafficking of their girls found an easy acceptability among kollas as Nadeem Hasnain, an anthropologist researched the Socio-economic and cultural variables responsible for the bondage. In his book Bonded for ever (1982) says. "… Centuries of exploitation and extreme degrees of material and non material deprivation and the resultant wretchedness have taken the fight out of them and they can hardly resist the temptation of getting some hundred rupees even at the cost of selling their offsprings and wives. It is an economic battle for life".
Nearly 5000 teenagers and women in a Tehsil of sangli district in South Maharastra wait for the month of June when the Arabs come and the year long poverty and hunger of these women, children, and babies is dispelled over night. The flesh trade flourishes from June to September and makes all the people connected with it happy.
In Rajashtan teenage prostitution is catching up as men sit and smoke hukkas while women fix bargains years after passing of the suppression of immoral traffic of women and children act. The children of the age group between 12 yrs to 20 yrs practice prostitution after school hours. Most of these children are later sold to the brothels of Agra and Delhi.
In big cities women procures are on a lookout for girls and they get girls from Basti, Gonda, Gorakhpur, Shahjahanpur, which are particularly notorious areas. Trilokpur police said that in a period of a year one thousand girls were sold in Doomariyaganj tahsil alone.
Nepal has a very large female population and majority of them are illiterate and are very gullible and can be lured under any pretext. They are very religious and succumb to the promises of being taken to temples in India. They are fair skinned and attractive and a promise to get them into films tempts them. There is widespread unemployment in Nepal and the girls are totally unexposed to the outer world.
About 40% of these girls are habitual bidi smokers so a little bit of the soporific can be mixed in the cigarettes for e.g. Ganja, Charas before abducting them. The Govt. of Nepal plans to ban smoking for women for this reason. The procurers find new ways of abducting them. One of the ways is giving them the 'magic paan' (betel) which is cocaine mixed, as most of the girls are abdicts of paan and beedi fall an easy prey to the cocaine intoxication.
Another bait is that of dowry which exists in reverse from in Nepal. A man can buy a bride and then he brings her to Bombay or anywhere and sells her at a brothel. Bombay seems to be an end of the rainbow when the daughters disappeared, the parents did not try to find out because they neither had the resources nor the ability to do so. They are assured that each girl can look after herself and if she does not reach so far. But when the girls started disappearing more frequently the rumours filtered back to the villages the neighbours were told that she was working in Bombay.
The parents do not accept the girls back but the money they send to them 80% of the girls crossing the Indo-Nepal border fall victims to racketeers who include Government officials of the two countries.
Girls are also brought from Karnataka, Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh and are assaulted and raped till they submit to this shameful life.
In the seamy and sordid world where each painted faced hides its own talk of abduction coercion an submission the 'gharwali' or the 'madani' rules by force and is helped by 'Goondas'. The prostitute is deprived of her earnings till the price which was paid to buy her is procured. If she utters a word of dissatisfaction she is whipped. They are kept in sophisticated cages by their owners. The child prostitutes who are minors and virgins are kept under strict vigil in reserve as they are in great demand. The Arabs and Koreans are used to paying thousands for these girls. The girls are never lodged at the same place permanently and they are shifted occasionally to a dozen of brothels owned by the procuress of their own country to avoid familiarity with the customers or police detection.
The procurer first rechristens the girl and the cautions them against revealing their real names and also disclosing there true addresses to the customers. Thereafter they are trained on the ethics of flesh trade never to turn away any customer, to treat all customers well equally courteously and superficially and never to discuss personal matters and keep themselves clean. They are also given one weekly holiday. The brothels where minor girls are kept, have two entries so as to escape during the sudden raids.
The girls have to live in a really unhygenic condition with very little food. A dozen girls have to live in a 10 x 10 room and that too without any medical check ups. These girls are forced to work round the clock. They are excused only when they are physically very weak.
Madams have quacks to treat them who dispense debilitating remedies and also use dangerous and unhygenic methods of abortion. The quacks inject coloured liquid in the infected areas as the treatment for various sexually transmitted diseases such as syphilis, scabies, venereal wart etc. making the children never totally cured thus extending their hold on them. The girls are seldom taken for treatment as sex with a minor girl is a crime so the madams are scared of the criminal proceedings.
For decades the most important red light areas have been enjoying the police protection. The policemen themselves go to the brothels for tea snacks and girls. They inform the brothel keepers in advance about the raids which are scheduled to take place.
The police, the brothel keeper, and pimps share the major part of the earnings of the prostitutes and the rest of it that percolates down to the prostitutes is a mere pittance. It is alleged that the police and abet the running of the brothels. They accept the hospitability, money and free use of the girls. The police helps the brothel keeper even by bringing back the ones who have run away. In a case where a girl named Geeta who was ten years old was rescued by a hawker after many attempts was returned back to the brothel keeper by the inspector himself on the same day.
The escapes by the victims and recovery by the police are rare. The recoveries do not account for even 2% of the actual number of girls procured it different places.
Child prostitution does not exists only in India but also in other parts of the world.
"60 sex salves all from impoverished Dominican republic were found hidden in sealed containers unloaded at the port St. Thomas in U. S. Virgin Islands. 28 of these died and survivors were weak with no identity papers. They work for 18 hrs in a day and get only 20 dollars per client."
"Millions of third worlds young women and children are sold. Sexual slavery is becoming increasingly international and industrial incharacter".
An organization of Manila which exports girls had 18 girls between the ages of 10 yrs to 17 yrs ready to be exported with same sign tattooed on the right thigh.
In Thailand child prostitution is relatively discrete and tolerated by police.
Practice of child prostitution is economically unsound, psychologically disastrous, and morally dangerous and harmful on even and individual child. One can hardly imagine the extreme trauma that a child under goes. There is a case of a child prostitute who lost her speech after being raped by one who had hired her. She is now placed in a deaf mute school for speech recovery.
The case of Tulsa a Nepali girl is more pathetic. Since the age of 13 she was sold and brought by many people and shifted from brothel to brothel and was forced by five to seven men every day. In this process she ended up with many diseases. She was taken to J. J. Hospital at Bombay. She was said to be suffering from meningitis, tuberculosis of brain, bone and chest and had an STD in advanced stage. The police took over sixteen months a file a charge sheet. Finally she was repatriated to Nepal. The culprits in the Himalayan. Kingdom were tried and imprisoned for 20 years.
Child prostitutes become ready recruits for flesh trade for they are rendered unfit for any other trade or calling not being educated or having any knowledge of any other trade.
Child prostitution itself is a criminal activity and serves as a catalyst for further criminal association in other fields. The helpless children are turned into mere pawns in the criminal syndicates which lead to a steady deterioration of morals.
50m of the worlds 200m prostitutes who suffer from STD are in India and they are mostly found to be affected by tuberculosis, meningitis scabies, chronic pelvic injections anaemia, syphilis, chaneroid. Tineacrutis, vevercal war etc. This was the scars that the child prostitution leaves on the child prostitutes can not be erased but to a certain extent can be minimised by the medical help.
VII. Law and child prostitution
The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act passed by both houses of parliament last August come into force from Monday 26th January 1987.
Under the amended act detention of a woman for purposes of prostitution is punishable with a minimum of seven years of imprisonment and maximum of life imprisonment Equally Stringent punishment will be awarded to those procuring children for prostitution.
Earlier, the act was known as suppression of Immoral Traffic in Women and Girls Act (SITA). The name of the act has been changed and it has been made more effective and stringent. The definition of prostitute itself has been changed to include persons of both sexes. Earlier it included girls and women only. The amendment takes into account the growing menace of male prostitution especially that involving young boys.
Under the new act there are three categories of victims-children, minors and majors. The children are those upto 16 years and minors are those between 16 to 18yrs and majors are those above 18 yrs. The earlier act recognized only women and girls - a women being one who has completed 21 years. Punishment for offences committed against these categories differ in severity Offences Committed against children and minors will be dealt with more severely than those against majors.
The new act provides for the appointment of a special police officer for investigating offences with inter-state ramifications the women who are resended by the police during raids will be questioned only by women police officers and if none is available they can be interrogated only in the presence of a female representative of a recognised welfare institution or organisation. To make a search or conduct a raid too the police officer has to be accompanied by at least two police women.
Rehabilitation of the prostitutes is a big problem because people donate for different causes like handicapped people, blind etc but when it cames to helping these girls not many are willing. There is a stigma attached to this profession once rescued the girls are sent to the Remand houses or the protective houses which are overcrowded, mismanaged, without facilities or vocational training and living conditions threadbare. The Government gives an aid of just Rs. 75/- per girl per month. So the girl realises that the life before was better and so when the pimp comes to claim them as a brother or a sister she readily goes with him or her to the old life.
Our society has not only turned a blind eye to minor girls being enticed into prostitution but also is directly responsible for the continuance in growth of child prostitution. First the demand for virgin prostitutes, and secondly it abets child prostitution by failing to provide adequate facilities for orphan and destitute children. Unless so called respectable sections of the society rise in revolt against exploitation the future of younger generation looks bleak. We have to forget the idea of once a prostitute for ever a prostitute and think how can a child help what has been done her by an unthinking adult? We have to overlook their past and rehabilitate them as one of the agencies in Bombay called Savadhan headed by Mr. Gupta is doing. They have got 30 of prostitutes who were rescued married to respectable people of the society. The IHO has been clamoring for women police to patrol red light area because policemen themselves exploit the inhabitant of the Red light area. The Government should divert more funds for rehabilitation and private charitable institutions should also contribute what we achieve in science and technology will be negated if we cannot protect our minor girls who are being exploited. The Government should severely punish the people connected with this inhuman practice should be totally banned for the good of the future citizens of our country.
1. Child Prostitution: SC notice to state 15th February 1984, Indian Express (Bombay).
2. Forum against child prostitution formed 3rd August 1985, The Times of India (Bombay).
3. Women in Bondage, Prashant Kumar, 11th November 1984, Sunday Observer.
4. A doctors crusade against child Prostitution by Chaya Srivastava. 18th June1986, Deccan Herals (Bangalore)
5. Rescue, Protect, Destroy: Sheela Barse, 10th February 1985, Statesman.
6. Miraj's monsoon harvest, Anand Agashe, 8th May 1986, Indian Express (Bombay).
7. From Nepal without Love, Shashi Menon, 7th April 1985, Indian Express.
8. Profile of sexually transmitted diseases in child prostitutes in the Red light areas of Bombay, V. R. Bhalerao.
9. Courtesans in the house of God, 8th September 1985. Free Press Journal.
10. Child Prostitution, 3rd August 1985. Times of India.
11. 60 Girls as Cargo to Virgin Ils, 21st April 1985, Indian Express.
12. Teenage Prostitution up in Rajasthan, 28th December 1984, The Daily.
13. 20% of the Prostitutes are minors. V Mathews, 11th August 1985, The Daily
Beastly beatification of brothels in India
The Other Side | Mrinal Pande
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15. Urbanization a hell for poor kids, 2nd November 1986, The Times of India, Bombay.
16. New act to curb, child Prostitution, 24th January 1987, Times of India (Bombay).
17. Prostitution Thrives in Bombay, 7th April 1987, Times of India, (Bombay).
|Brothel Boom Ensnares More of India's Daughters|
|Run Date: 05/17/07|
|By Swapna Majumdar|
In certain rural villages in India it is traditional for low-income families to send daughters into prostitution. Some girls are being protected from that dangerous fate in the age of HIV-AIDS, but far more are falling into brothels' economic grip.
BHARATPUR, Rajasthan (WOMENSENEWS)--Kamla was just 12 years old when she was initiated into the sex trade in the brothels of Delhi.
After working as a prostitute for 14 years she found a man who was willing to marry her. But Kamla (her name has been changed to protect her) knew that leaving the trade would not be easy.
This is because her family, like many in a large community known as the Bedia in the Indian state of Rajasthan, reared her to be a prostitute and to send her earnings home to them.
In Ghatoli, Kamla's village, 58 of the 70 Bedia families there practice prostitution, according to a 2004 study conducted by the Gram Niyojan Kendra, a nongovernmental organization working to provide rehabilitation to women in prostitution for the national Ministry of Women and Child Development. The study found that the traditional practice of prostitution by communities such as the Bedia is, in fact, increasing.
Growth in the ranks of India's sex workers in general has been five times that of the annual population growth rate of around 5 percent, according to the study.
'Difficult to Stop Now'
"Our ancestors began this practice more than 100 years ago. It has been going on for so long that it is difficult to stop it now," says Bhagu Das, a Bedia community leader. "Even if we stop, the sex trade will not end. I may stop the practice but I cannot prevent others in my community from doing it. After all who will feed them? We need employment opportunities."
Traditionally, Bedias, one of the lowest in the Indian caste hierarchy, were dancers in Rajasthan. Female members often entertained feudal lords and many wound up as concubines of rich farmers. When the feudal agricultural landlord system fell apart many Bedia families lost their livelihoods and turned to prostitution as a more or less family business, with daughters as young as 10 initiated into the work and brothers assuming the role of their agents. Today, girls are often sold by their families to brothels in Delhi or dance bars in Mumbai, says Dr. K.K. Mukherjee, founder of Gram Niyojan Kendra.
Knowing her family would disapprove of her marriage, Kamla about 20 years ago quietly eloped. For some years, she lived in peace. She gave birth to three children. But her brother, who was furious at the disruption of money that Kamla used to send from Delhi to the family's village of Ghatoli, finally managed to find her.
He told her to get back into prostitution or their gods would get angry and her children would die. He even beat her with a burning log to scare her into submission. But Kamla ran away with her three children.
She Turns to Farming
She bought some land with the money she had saved, began to farm and has managed to live a life of dignity. Today, her oldest daughter is married, her son is now working as a trading assistant in a grocery shop and the younger daughter has completed her graduation from the district college and wants to study law.
She sought the help of Harjeet Kaur, an activist who has been working in the Bharatpur villages for the past six years, who retells her story.
Kaur, who works for Gram Niyojan Kendra, has managed to win the trust of Bedia families, especially the women. She says many women such as Kamla are anxious to prevent their daughters from entering their trade.
Many prostitutes, she says, are seeking out advocacy groups to help their daughters steer clear of a trade that--in the age of HIV and AIDS--places a growing premium on virgins, who are widely believed to cure ailments such as AIDS and impotency.
Mukherjee says his group's 2004 study of sex workers found that clients of brothels in Delhi pay as much as $3,000 for the young woman's first sexual encounter. In Mumbai, the price can go as high as $5,000.
Schools Offer Shelter
Although Kamla helped guard her daughters against prostitution by staying outside Rajathan, many of the women who are still in the sex trade have protected their children by enrolling them in Samridhi Bal Vidhya Mandir, a primary and middle school with hostel facilities that Mukherjee's group established in 1998.
Thirty-five of the 83 children in these schools have mothers who are working prostitutes, but they are not told this and are encouraged to learn life skills with the rest of the students.
In addition to conventional classes, the school provides counseling services to help families give up the tradition of sending their daughters into prostitution. It also offers vocational training such as tailoring to girls to help them find employment.
So far six young graduates between 18 and 20 at risk of being sold into prostitution have found husbands through arranged marriages.
But efforts such as these--along with several federal laws and government committees dedicated to helping women and child prostitutes--manage to reach only a tiny population of Bedia girls and young women.
"Every time there are political or religious rallies in Delhi, the queues outside the brothels get longer," says Mukherjee. "The number of Bedia prostitutes in brothels in Delhi has increased by more than three times during the last 10 years. Parents earn a regular income by trafficking their daughters. The low levels of education, continued backwardness and decline in existing livelihood opportunities have exacerbated the situation. This is why about 60 percent of the 5 million women in prostitution today belong to the backward classes and castes."
Swapna Majumdar is a journalist based in New Delhi writing on politics, gender and development issues.
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|APF Reporter Vol.20 #3 Index||Home|
Beauty and the Brothel:
Prostitutes and AIDS in India
Text and photos by Zana Briski
Over 7,000 women and girls work as prostitutes in Sonagachi, Calcutta’s largest red-light district. Often forced into the trade by poverty, abandonment or the rampant trafficking business which forcibly transports young girls from Nepal and neighboring Bangladesh, they come from all castes, but have been pushed down the social scale to Sonagachi, a seedy landscape of narrow alleys, the next ground zero in the global AIDS epidemic.
World health officials are calling India the next Africa, forecasting more Indians will die from AIDS in the next decade than all the HIV-related deaths since the disease was discovered in 1981. With an estimated million prostitutes in
India, prostitution is the lit match of the AIDS tinderbox. A host of local non-government organizations have collected millions of dollars in aid money to halt the transmission of the disease. Plagued by infighting and corruption, however, little of it has funneled down to the alleys of Sonagachi. There, cheap condoms are readily available, but women remain ignorant of their importance or powerless to make customers use them.
Even with awareness, the financial pressures are too great to refuse customers who won’t use condoms. As a prostitute, Beauty, put it, "So what if I’m afraid? If it’s not that way, they will go away. Some other girl will say, ‘Come, I’ll entertain you without a condom.’ Then it’s my loss."
©2002 Zana Briski
Zana Briski, a freelance photographer in New York City, is spending her Patterson year documenting female and child sex workers in Calcutta, India.