“Accelerating Equality and Empowerment” to Sex-workers & Survivors of Human Trafficking

VIMUKTHI – A state level forum of survivors of human trafficking and Victims of Commercial Sexual exploitation (Sex workers) working for the socio-economic empowerment of sex workers and survivors of human trafficking with the facilitation of HELP organization in the state of Andhra Pradesh. We cordially appreciate the efforts of our Andhra Pradesh State Government for the protection and welfare of all sections of women and girls in the state.

Sex workers in India have been one of the most marginalized populations in India, throughout history - especially during the colonial era and since India’s independence. They have been criminalised, stigmatised and discriminated against, keeping them in poverty and exploitation. Most of them are from marginalized castes (SC/ST) and minority religions and have either been trafficked into prostitution or forced into it because of lack of economic options for survival. And because sex workers are so exploited their children also become victims of stigma, violence and poverty and get forced into trafficked situations.

Over the last 50 years, sex workers in Andhra Pradesh have been excluded from financial tools and schemes that have been available to general populations. They have been unable to save and protect their income, they have been unable to take loans from financial institutions forcing them to take loans from private moneylenders who charge them exorbitant rates of interest resulting in them being trapped in perpetual debt. They have been forced to rely on prostitution and related activities since they are unable to find other means of livelihood.

The only time the government’s attention has turned to sex workers was to prevent spread of HIV to the general population since they are identified as a high risk group. The success of ICDS programmes have been limited, children often drop out of schools unable to deal with stigma and shaming that they experience in classrooms because of their mothers’ identity. The ICPS programme has had very little focus on such families and communities, and not taken cognizance of their peculiar and distinct conditions (vulnerability to psychological distress, stigma, exposure to substance abuse, sexual abuse and violence). Even though Andhra Pradesh was one of the first states to formulate a state order (G.O.Ms.No:1/2003) that appointed officers in each district to study the patterns and trends in trafficking and take corresponding action, research shows that the mandate has been poorly implemented across the state with poor accountability and no significant impact on trafficking or commercial sexual exploitation of women and girls. So much so, that Andhra Pradesh is today identified as the state in India with the highest number of sex workers with 1.33 Lakh (recent study conducted by Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Govt of India).

VIMUKTHI – A State level forum of survivors of trafficking and victims of Commercial Sexual Exploitation (sex workers) wishes to draw the attention of the Government of Andhra Pradesh on this International Women’s Day – “Accelerating Equality and Empowerment” on the following with recommendation for solution:

1. Financial inclusion of all sex workers in Andhra Pradesh: We urge the government of AP to remove all barriers of sex workers to financial institutions and encourage banks and other financial institutions to reach out to sex workers and include them, win their trust. Sex workers, having faced discrimination in all public offices, be it a police station or hospital or even a bank, feel intimidated to engage with financial institutions on their own. The state government may consider appointing offices who can help in facilitating linkages between sex workers SHGs and banks, and find ways of building trust and confidence between them to ensure financial inclusion for sex workers in AP.

2. Livelihoods for sex workers to build financial security: Along with capital, sex workers also need mentoring, technical assistance and support in being able to design, operationalise and sustain micro businesses or group enterprises or find ways of income other than prostitution. Lack of this support often results in failure in businesses which sex workers may have tried out with their own borrowed capital. We urge the government of AP to instruct the SRLM and SULM to focus on sex workers’ livelihoods as build a strategy to increase diversity in livelihoods in sex workers. We urge the state government to form a monitoring committee and VIMUKTHI and HELP would like to be the part of such a committee which will be responsible to ensure that the Livelihood Missions take initiatives and achieve progress in such a mandate.

3. Protection from money lenders: Recent research on financial security in AP shows that the pandemic has forced thousands of sex workers to borrow money from private moneylenders who exploit them with huge rates of interest and resort to violence when they are unable to pay them. Andhra Pradesh is the only state in India that does not have a state law on money lending and private moneylenders enjoy impunity for their exploitation of the poorest and the most vulnerable (not only sex workers). It is well documented in AP and other states in India that one of the most common ways of trafficking of girls and women into sex work is when the family is unable to pay debts and therefore push these girls into prostitution to pay of debts.

4. Scheme for sex workers to increase access to health services: Not only HIV AIDS, sex workers are exposed to high levels of violence, exploitation, abuse and stigma which affects emotionally and psychologically and increases very high rate of depression and other kinds of emotional distress which therefore impacts them in a parenting role and also in taking care of themselves. Further, sex workers are consistently face stigma and discrimination in Govt. hospitals. So there is a need for community based mental health programme i.e. sex workers to have access to common mental health services. To increase access to health services by the sex workers by making government hospitals more accountable, there shall be an audit by the third party to be organized by the government to assess the situation in terms of discrimination and stigma that experienced by sex workers in government hospitals and to make and maintain corrective measures to address the same.

5. Protection of children of sex workers from stigma, abuse and violence: ICPS has not taken any special efforts to take in to the consideration of children of sex workers as a special group because they are exposed to high levels of stigma and violence abuse in schools and communities and they are exposed to substance abuse and sexual abuse/violence among the communities. For this, the SCPS shall be held accountable and conduct an audit on what are the DCPU’s current actions on children of sex workers, their difficulties and challenges and what should be done for children of sex workers from DCPUs to ensure that their children won’t face stigma and violence in schools and communities. The strategy of institutionalization in shelter homes for children is not served well because they are being excluded from the formal education and market oriented vocational trainings and skills and therefore there should be an alternative approach for this.

6. Strengthen accountability of AHTUs in investigation of crime and gathering intelligence: Even though the Govt. of India and the Govt. of A.P has recognized so far that the role of AHTUs is not just confined to conduct rescue operations and it should investigate the cases which is not possible for local police stations and its officers who are responsible for managing crimes and regular local law and order issues. So the trafficking cases need to be investigated by AHTUs and also responsible to gather intelligence, prevent crimes and trap networks of traffickers which is not been happening. Therefore, it is to strengthen prevention of trafficking through establishing AHTUs all over the districts across the state where there is not set-up as of now. At least it is to ensure the AHTUs are strictly functional at the high prevalence districts of human trafficking and these units held responsible for investigation of ITPA cases ensuring no trafficking case investigated by local police stations and tracking traffickers and repeat offenders.

7. Assess reasons for weakness in prosecution: It is to note that the prosecution of trafficking cases has been consistently slow resulting in low conviction rates because of poor investigation of the cases. So an audit is to be conducted by the state to identify and understand all the other sense of challenges in prosecution and to take corrective actions so as to challenge the impunity of the traffickers in the state of Andhra Pradesh.

We humbly requesting to Policy Makers and Policy Implementers to kindly look into the issues and challenges facing by survivors of human trafficking and victims of Commercial sexual exploitation and recommend the Govt of Andhra Pradesh to take appropriate measures for our holistic development including our socio economic empowerment and mainstreaming in the society on the occasion of this International Women’s Day.

About HELP:

HELP is a voluntary organisation mentoring VIMUKTHI (A State level forum of sex workers and survivors of trafficking) in its mission for socio-economic empowerment of sex workers and survivors of trafficking for commercial sexual exploitation. HELP is working over two decades for the prevention of human trafficking and also protection and welfare of women and children in vulnerable conditions in the state of Andhra Pradesh.

For any clarifications please contact – Mr. Nimmaraju Ram Mohan @ 99497 23666 Mr Bhaskar – Programme Manager – HELP @ 9949688014