When we talk about prostitution and sex work, we often fail to acknowledge the presence of men as well as non-binary individuals in the industry. The general discourse that surrounds issues of sexual exploitation or trafficking is usually limited to girls.
In India, teenagers and young gender variant men face gross human rights infringement, social stigma, out-casting and face genuine obstructions to joining standard mainstream occupations. This has prompted a condition where, in the absence of any other alternative, out of desperation, individuals undergo illicit and rough castration operations keeping their lives on the line. Anecdotal proof puts the number of deaths because of castration at half of those worked upon by Dai, Quacks and Surgeons with questionable credentials.
Others join different troops as Luanda dancers — the traditional dancing boys — and relocate to Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. With the cover of dancing, they are forced into prostitution and face fierce viciousness. Their job alternatives as Hijra or folk entertainers puts them in grave danger of physical attacks and brutality, sexual badgering, sexual maltreatment and assault, rape, and the dangers of HIV infection and even death.
The UNDP report on Launda dancers in 2007, explored how young boys performing as launda dancers in parts of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh were taken from low-income families and hired to spice up entertainment during marriages in the Hindi heartland. These predominate effeminate men dressed in women’s attire come at lower prices as compared to the female dancers, and are known for their Launda Naach.
Some male prostitutes are a part of the sex work industry who come to large metropolitan cities. Before taking up the work of a gigolo and earning money, they dabble between menial jobs in the big city. One such of a 27-year-old masseur turned male prostitute who throws light on the status of the male sex workers in big cities.
The young man recounts his journey of coming to Mumbai from Gujarat and working as a tea stall vendor, then as a maalishwala (masseur). Before he knew it, he shifted to working as a full-time gigolo catering to high profile women to make ₹5000-6000 per client, and getting up to two clients every day.
Traditionally accepted during celebrations, festivities and open services, these young men have never been perceived as vulnerable, powerless or in danger. These children are not permitted the opportunities that their well-off peers have during that development stage.
Unable to access schools or any chance of learning or using aptitudes, they do not have the opportunities for any gainful/productive employment to themselves. On top of this, these are individuals who are exploited at an age when they are hardly aware of their sexuality. They are never given a chance to explore their sexuality, gender expression and self-identity.
These young boys are powerless when their own family recommends prostitution and risky relocation just to support the family’s survival. Further, with no understanding of who they are and their ability to express oneself, these are individuals with low confidence and self-esteem. They are unable to understand the full effect of their exploitation by their friend, neighbours and families. They do not have the voice to go against physical and sexual maltreatment.
Sexual misuse of youngsters has for quite some time been viewed as an issue in South Asia, yet, it is frequently seen as being limited to young women. Thus, the prostitution of young men is little understood, despite its recognised presence in a few portions of South Asia, including India.
Today there is a need to develop more specific interventions to ensure the rights of the child. While the government claims in its constitution to uphold the rights of children, often the policies only deal with the issues of the girl child. This is not to say those specific policies are not required to deal with the atrocities faced by the girl child. But to dismantle patriarchy that systematically pushes away boys from being victims of anything, we must bring young boys back into the system to ensure reform.
Young boys are constantly taught that it is bad to remain in touch with their feminine side. They are abused within the walls of their homes. There is no law or place of refuge for them to protect themselves from such heinous abuses. Thus, it is incumbent upon us to come together and help dismantle such a system that expects young boys to suffer in the dark silently.
It is important that we approach the situation by acknowledging the sexual abuse of young males as widespread and equally horrific, that we talk to the young boys in our lives and teach them about the various aspects of good and bad touch, get in contact with NGOs and Government agencies to introduce intervention tools/kits in local schools and actively engage with young children to talk about issues that make them uncomfortable and seek help.
Have you ever come across any instances where young boys are sexually exploited? What do you think are the reasons that society tends to neglect these kinds of issues? Please share it with us in the comments.
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