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Overlooking Male Prostitution: “Sexual Abuse Of Young Males Is Widespread and Equally Horrific”

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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.

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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 2007explored 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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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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