Poverty, illiteracy main reasons for flesh trade
P. Sujatha Varma
|Family members' support for sex workers in many cases: survey|
VIJAYAWADA: A staggering 78 per cent of some 2,000 commercial sex workers, including those roaming the streets in the city, are married women. A major chunk of them `conduct the business' with the active support of their family members, including their spouses, according to a study conducted by Vimochana, a local non-government organisation working for the liberation of commercial sex workers.
While poverty and illiteracy have pushed many women into the flesh trade, most of those falling prey to this business belong to the downtrodden sections of society. However, some women belonging to the upper stratum of society too are doing this, mostly for pecuniary gains. The percentage of this cross-section is beyond the estimation by any survey agency.
Vimochana, set up in 1986, has been working with the `high-risk groups' of commercial sex workers to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), HIV/AIDS, among the community, as part of the Andhra Pradesh AIDS Control Society (APSACS) project being funded by the UK-based DFID.
"An increasing number of women are taking to flesh trade in the city limits. The problem is rampant. So much so that we could identify 217 sex workers within a couple of days of launching the APSACS project," says M. Paul Banerjee, the project director. He goes on to explain how `homes' are replacing `brothels' as the former are thought to be `safer zones,' with regard to police raids.
The main task of Vimochana is to identify those who are into the flesh trade, educate them on STDs, make condoms available to them and provide them treatment for sexually transmitted infections at the clinic set up on the premises of its office near Urvasi theatre.
The Bill Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), which has its headquarters in Hyderabad, sponsors the treatment at the clinic.
"One can find at least 300 sex workers in Vijayawada city at any given point of time. We have a dropping centre on the premises of our office, which is frequented by nearly 300 workers daily. They come here, relax for a while, pick up condoms and head towards their destination. Those who need treatment for STDs visit the clinic where they are treated free of cost," Mr. Banerjee says.
Besides 10 staff members, the NGO has appointed 20 peer educators who are picked from among the sex workers. "They spread awareness among others with regard to STDs and encourage them to use prophylactic devices."
"We do realise that it is a serious problem threatening drastic consequences. The most effective way of curbing flesh trade is to bring about a change in the mindset of those resorting to it. If counselling also fails, it is a clear indication of erosion of moral values and the increasing crave for easy money," says K. Suhasini, project director of the Women and Child Welfare Department.
Check sex workers
Interestingly, while a hue and cry is being raised over the increasing number of AIDS cases, not much is done to effectively curb the growing menace of sex workers who are major contributors to the swelling figures of HIV/AIDS victims.
An anti-trafficking co-ordination committee constituted by the district administration a couple of years ago to look into the problem has apparently failed to make any headway with the committee members meeting just twice so far.
Jul 21, 2005