Grim reality: A survey of sex workers

These are shocking statistics that belie the close to 10% growth rate of the national economy and tell the story of a community that isn’t. As per the law.

More than 41% women sex workers in the Capital’s GB Road enter the profession because of sheer poverty, 39% of their own free will. Only 50% use condoms and the social welfare department says despite their best efforts health and hygiene standards cannot be improved too much beyond the occasional anonymous checks by mobile vans as the law does not recognise the existence of these women.

All the anti-trafficking laws notwithstanding, almost the entire population of GB Road comprises women, who have come from other states, Andhra Pradesh topping the list with 28.7% sex workers hailing from that state. These are the findings of a first-of-its-kind survey of Delhi’s sex workers done by the Delhi Commission for Women.

The study – 400 commercial sex workers from G B Road were studied and inputs were also taken from the rescued women in government homes even if their numbers were not included in the sample size – aimed at a need assessment of Delhi’s sex workers and their children and also to draw up a demographic and health profile of the neglected community in order to draw up a comprehensive policy for prevention of trafficking and incidence of HIV-AIDS.

The study found that the work is mainly conducted through the kotha malkins who pockets a large percentage of the income so that for an average sex worker the monthly income is quite low, 72.5% earn between Rs 3,000-5,000 and 20.7% earn more than Rs 5,000.

State social welfare minister Yoganand Shastri said: "The study which is the first of its kind, will help us get a perspective on the extent of the problem and formulate policies accordingly. But there are inherent dichotomies in the system that make things difficult.

Abantika Ghosh, for The Times of India

For one, it is only when a woman rescued and taken to Nirmal Chhaya that we can really help them because the law does not recognise the profession at all. We do undertake surreptitious checks with the MITWA mobile vans, but that does not always suffice."

Commenting about the low condom usage and dismal awareness about STDs (less than 50% know about them and 46.5% are infected), Shastri said: "The Delhi State Aids Control Society (DSACS) had put up condom vending machines in all major houses in the area and they are kept well-supplied. Unless the legal constraints go there is not much more that we can do about it."

A whopping 57.5% of respondents admitted to substance abuse with smoking being the most popular one, followed by alcohol, heroin and marijuana. 23.7% complained of exploitation, 54.4% of them held the police responsible.

Interestingly, more than 85% of these women have some sort of identity proof like ration card, voter I-card or even passport which they procure with help from cops. While more than 60% of women surveyed have children, only 40% of them go to school, a figure that commission officials say bodes ill for the objective of preventing second generation entry into the profession.

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