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This Government Order Should Be Reinforced To Make Lives Of Sex Workers Better

Vimukthi is a collective of survivors of sex trafficking, commercial sexual exploitation, and women in prostitution, based in Andhra Pradesh. We are Andhra Pradesh leaders of VIMUKTHI and Indian Leadership Forum Against Trafficking (ILFAT), a national platform formed by the survivors and for the survivors of human trafficking.

Impact On Women In Prostitution Due To Lockdown In The Wake Of Covid-19 Outbreaks

The lockdown has hit millions of people working in the informal sector and all so-called non-essential economic activity has come to a halt. The government has announced relief schemes for all categories of poor, but women in sex work remained outside their ambit. In India, sex work is not illegal, but you are aware sex is prevalent and well spread in various forms. Though the Government has taken a stance to punish people who buy sex making, it is a criminal offence.

According to a National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) Annual Report 2016-17, Andhra Pradesh had 86,413 Commercial Sex Workers (CSW), though organizations working in the sector estimate the true number to be much higher. The lockdown and risk of COVID-19 have created extreme financial hardships for the CSW population. The clientele has disappeared overnight as most of the clients earn daily wages and now with millions of people becoming unemployed, it includes their clients too. The situation is not expected to improve for the next 8-12 months.

Representational image.

The CSWs In Andhra Pradesh Are Facing These Challenges

  • Almost all of these women are into prostitution are unskilled and not used any other form of work in the job market available these days. This is in a scenario where most well-skilled IT professionals and other professions have lost their jobs in India and even globally.
  • A majority of CSWs are non-permanent residents living or working in rented places in RLAs (prostitution localities or brothel-based) and are currently unable to pay rent, utility bills, and buy food and medicines, and care for their children.
  • A majority of these CSWs living on the rent was already under debts and post lockdown, CSWs were forced to borrow more money, adding to their debt amount. The money lenders will not spare them but will levy heavy rates of interest, which will make their lives more miserable and push them to commit more heinous things to survive.
  • As part of the Government’s relief scheme for the poor, a financial package of Rs 1,000 credited monthly into the bank accounts of 200 million people. However, due to the majority of CSWs living in Prostitution localities/Brothel houses having no bank accounts, AADHAAR card, or residence proof, they are deprived of any such beneficiary scheme.

The CSWs are left with no choice but to enter into an inter-generational debt trap for their life otherwise they and their family may starve to death due to the lockdown situation.

In the current situation, there is an urgent need to address the situation of women in sex work as they are very clandestine and highly mobile which deprives them of social security.

Reinforcing the G.O.Ms.No. 1/2003 making it suitable for the current situation – Most of the women in prostitution (sex workers) belong to groups like BC, SC, and ST, and the relevant corporations should support them in providing loans/alternative livelihoods as per the G.O.Ms. No 1. The GO is exclusively issued in the best interest and welfare of women in prostitution and rescued survivors of trafficking. If it is reinforced, most of the women in prostitution suffering in the wake of COVID 19 will be benefited from needy support services including alternative livelihoods.

This is an ideal time for the Government to intervene, and tackle trafficking and forced prostitution. “They have all come to this profession through an absence of choice. The Government should think of an exit strategy that includes transitional housing, bank loans, and alternate employment.”

Background Of G.O.Ms.No: 1 Issued By Government Of Andhra Pradesh

The Hon’ble Supreme Court of India in its judgment Dated. 09-07-1997 in WP (Civil) no: 824 of 1988 – Gaurav Jain vs Union of India directed the government of India to constitute a Committee to make an in-depth study of the problem of prostitution, Child Prostitution and children of prostitutes and to make suggestions for the welfare programs to be implemented for the care, protection, treatment, and rehabilitation of the Young victims mainly children and girls rescued either from the brothel houses or from the vice of prostitution. Accordingly, the Government of India constituted a Central Advisory Committee.

Based on the reference letter cited 2 (G.O.Ms.No. 26, WD, CW & DW Dept, Govt of Andhra Pradesh dated. 14-09-2001) the Government of Andhra Pradesh set up a state-level Coordination Committee on “Prostitution, Child Prostitution, and Children of Prostitutes” under the Chairmanship of Chief Secretary to Government to review the situation.  Further, this committee is assigned to work towards Implementing the coordination in enforcement of the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act 1956, guide and oversee the efforts for the rescue and rehabilitation of prostitutes/child Prostitutes. This coordination committee shall meet at least once in three months.

After the judgment, in this case, a Review Petition (Review Petition (C) No. 1841 of 1997 in Writ Petition (C) 824 of 1988) was filed by the Supreme Court Bar Association supported by Gaurav Jain, the original petitioner. The review petition was referred to a larger bench of three judges and judgment was delivered on 30 – 03 – 1998. The judgment in the review petition pertained to the following points – scope and nature of Articles 32, 142 and 145(1) of the Constitution of India; and the directions given in the earlier judgment regarding prostitution and its eradication. The second judgment set aside the directions given in the first judgment relating to prostitution and/or its amelioration or eradication; whilst permitting the Union or State Governments to formulate their policies in this area or taking measures to implement them.

Based on the above-cited Supreme Court Judgment, the government of Andhra Pradesh with the reference cited 3 (GO.Ms.No.1, WD, CW & DW (Prog) Dept, Govt., of Andhra Pradesh, Dated. 03.01.2003) issued a policy on Combating Trafficking of women and children for Commercial Sexual Exploitation.

Through this policy which is meant for prevention of trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation, there are enough services have been framed for the benefit and in the best interest of the rescued victims for their rescue, rehabilitation especially for their economic empowerment as well as their housing and civic amenities, health care services and education and child care services for their children while facilitating legal aid. Simultaneously, a relief fund with some budget allocation also been created for the rehabilitation of rescued women and children.

It is directed through this G.O.Ms.No. 1 to set up a state-level coordination committee, under the aegis of Chief Secretary and District level coordination committee under the aegis of District Collector for review and monitoring of the program. These two committees will meet at their levels periodically for every 3 months to review the status and situations of trafficking in the state and district and the implementation of measures for rescue, rehabilitation, re-integration, and mainstreaming of the victims of trafficking.

Status of G.O.Ms.No. 1

The said GO is successfully implemented till 2013 but later after state bifurcation, there is no concern over the implementation of this GO and over the state and district level committees constituted under the same to review and monitor its provisions. Moreover, after establishing administrative setup of all the departments by the new state making Amaravathi as its capital, the importance of said GO and its eminent provisions to curb the crime of trafficking and effective services for protection and welfare of victims of trafficking almost disappeared in practical grounds and it lost its overall prominence and its purpose. As a result, no person has care and concern over the issues and challenges faced by the victims of Human Trafficking and sex trafficking.

During the lockdown period enforced in the wake of the COVID 19 pandemic outbreak, many several victims of human trafficking and sex trafficking suffering without a helping hand who could support them with social entitlements. Moreover, they are not in a position to reach out and access the benefits either by Govt. of A.P with ration and Rs. 1000/- cash support or by the GoI that supported Rs. 500/- as part of the support by the central Government.

We suggest following ways to address this crisis in Andhra Pradesh and we hope the Andhra Pradesh Government will entertain our suggestions:

  • The Andhra Pradesh Government should work to break the chain of debt bondage by providing alternative livelihood plans that offer identity (government-authorized personal ID proofs) and financial security (opening bank accounts, taking loans for starting new ventures and starting savings for future)
  • There are registered CBOs of State AIDS Control Society, Govt of AP but not all sex workers are registered in the CBOs, so there has to be a mechanism to include all the women in sex work.
  • A district-level CBO should be set-up that will support the women in sex work by supporting them in making viable feasible and sustainable livelihoods plan and recommend them for loans. The district level

CBOs should function as cooperatives where all women who reach them are supported by linking them to services like health, education for their children, opportunities to avail of different schemes. The CBOs are proposed as they function independently and can reach out to them.

  • Most of the women belong to groups like BC, SC, and ST, the relevant corporations should support them in providing them loans. The recommendation should come from the CBOs to ensure transparency and accountability. All women can be covered with all the relevant schemes in various departments.
  • The government should proactively educate and raise awareness amongst sex workers and provide a list of schemes for their utilization.
  • Ensure action against stigma and discrimination against CSWs and trafficked victims: Citizen awareness drives to be initiated to make CSWs feel heard and also to change the mindset of the society to become more accepting of CSW reintegration with them.
  • Ensure directive to issue Ration Cards: Immediate issue of ration cards to enable access to services from the Government.
  • Alternative Livelihoods through SHGs and Cooperatives: The Andhra Pradesh Government should work to break the chain of debt bondage by providing alternative livelihood plans that offer identity (Government-authorized personal ID proofs) and financial security (opening bank accounts, taking loans for starting new ventures and starting savings for future.
  • Directives on Facilitation of SHGs of sex-workers: There are registered CBOs of SACS but not all sex workers are registered in the CBOs, so there has to be a mechanism to include all the women in sex work.
  • Victim Compensation processes for victims of sex trafficking:  The government has introduced the AP Victim Compensation Scheme, 2015 as per the directions by NALSA. But, it is so sad to say that, while the NCRB reports have quoted that from 2015 – 16 to 2018 – 19 there are 1150 victims have been rescued from trafficking in the state of Andhra Pradesh, only two victims that too as per the directions of Kurnool court have availed the victim compensation in the state of Andhra Pradesh and there is no support to rest of the victims till now. Moreover, it is come to know that, many a number of the applications submitted by the victims have been rejected by concerned departments.
  • GO.Ms.No. 28: WD&CW for Immediate relief to trafficked rescued Victims: The G.O.Ms.No. 28 which is meant for providing an amount of Rs. 20, 000/- as Immediate Relief support in the form of cash within a month to the rescued victims of trafficking enabling them to meet their emergency expenses is not at all implementing by the state. At least even 10% of the total 1115 rescued victims of trafficking in the state since to 2018-19 have not accessed the said immediate relief support.
  • Witness Protection Scheme, 2018 – The Witness Protection Scheme, 2018 which was formulated by the directions of the Supreme Court is not in implementation in the state of Andhra Pradesh. As a result, the rescued victims of trafficking not deposing their witness in the courts as they are facing threats, insisting pressure, and violence by the traffickers. This leads to a poor conviction rate of traffickers and other perpetrators involved in the heinous crime of trafficking who in turn are escaping from the clutches of law and are continuing their clandestine activities through trafficking scores of innocent girls and women in the state.

As VIMUKTHI victims’ collective of human trafficking, we request the government for strict implementation of G.O.Ms.No 1/2003 & G.O.Ms.No 28/2012 and also provide compensation amount under GO.Ms.No. 132,  Home (COURTS.B) Dept – victim compensation scheme – 2015 with immediate effect to prevent us from re-trafficking and re-victimization.

We hope to receive a favourable response from the government of Andhra Pradesh over the issue and request your support for necessary amendments to the above GOs ensuring participation of rescued victims to provide them with a new life of dignity helps in their socio-economic empowerment.

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