APN News

  • Wednesday, June, 2024| Today's Market | Current Time: 11:52:21
  • By Tapan Saha

    Kolkata: Every industry, community and individual has ushered in the new year with a focus to look forward and make up for the losses endured in 2020. However, it is just another year for the sex workers of Sonagachi who are the worst-hit community this pandemic.

    Unlike other daily wage workers, the women in flesh trade have been hit badly with no social support system in place. Ridden with debt even before the pandemic struck, over 81% of sex workers have taken more loans to survive these months where few customers have been visiting dure to fear of the virus transmission. These loans are taken from locals money lenders, brothel owners, pimps, which they eventually use as a coercive, threatening factor to compel the women to stay in the sex industry.

    That is when I, along with my team, thought of finding out how many women are willing to quit the trade and start a fresh chapter in their lives. Our survey showed that 73% of the sex workers want to leave sex trade, but are not able to do so due to the huge loans they incurred. Almost all sex workers 98% who we interviewed said they would chose alternate jobs and livelihood options if there is an opportunity.

    The Covid-19 pandemic has opened up possibilities of providing these women with an opportunity to opt for dignified alternative livelihood. They have been trapped in commercial sex trade unwillingly for no fault of theirs. The indefinite timeline required for pandemic control necessitates sex workers to consider taking up alternative jobs to keep themselves safe as well as have a sustainable income source.

    There can be no other ripe time for the State and district administrations to pay special focus on the welfare of the sex workers. Even after the markets have opened up now, there are very few customers visiting the brothels. Resuming and promoting sex work is not the answer. The larger question to ask here is —  Is it ethical to trap the women in abuse and sexual exploitation while they are willing to earn in a dignified manner?

    All they need is to be reintegrated into the society, wiping away the stigma and the shame they are engulfed in. Several social organisations are marching towards creating a rehabilitation module and helping out the women. But what will take these efforts a notch higher is the support from policy makers to formulate an Alternative Livelihood Plan for the local sex workers.

    The District and the State Administration should improve state-run comprehensive services for sex workers, allocate budget and provide basic skill training programs under the various livelihood and skill development missions for upskilling them and providing them with various job opportunities to start a new life. For instance, a scheme like Muktir Alo: The framework and the design exists, it needs to be upgraded inorder to be impactful. With aid from strategists and experts from civil society, the government can easily bring the scheme that works for these needy women. 

    The next step would be training and intensive skilling of sex workers. While educating them in employable skills, a boot-camp based model can be put to action after the first 7-8 months for sex workers who want to start their own venture. They can be provided with access to easy credit and collateral-free microfinance opportunities to get them started.

    Lastly, for the victims of sex trafficking, a special victim relief fund should be established to help them pay-off their debts and move out of the horrors of exploitation and pain. The screams that have been going unheard for too long, the atrocities that were left unseen for too long will finally be addressed. As a society, everyone of us is responsible for the plight of a sex worker who is also a victim of trafficking. The magnetic effect of society’s stakeholders to fight for the freedom of these women will be a game-changing movement in the history of humanity and also a step towards correcting the wrongs that have been committed for long now.

    The author is the founder of Anti-Human Trafficking Organisation, Kolkata

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