New Delhi, Jan 27, No policy decision on issues that directly or incidentally impact sex workers should be made without meaningful and inclusive consultation with their community, representatives of sex workers organisations demanded on Friday.
Keeping in view the present strategy of Ministry of Women and Child Development (WCD) to enact a comprehensive legislation to address the issue of trafficking of minors, girls and workers, women from All India Network of Sex Workers (AINSW) and Self Regulatory Board's (SRB) deliberated on the issue.
AINSW President Kusum and SRB members -- Padma Majumdar, Madhu N. and Renuka Prabhu here on Friday said that the community should be consulted in policies made for them and also emphasised that sex work and trafficking should not be confused as one.
"The mainstream idea about sex workers is that it is synonymous to trafficking. People and the law always associate the two," AINSW President Kusum told media.
"The fact that they are vulnerable to trafficking is absolutely true though," she added.
Kusum also said that her organisation is trying to give the community of sex workers an identity.
"We are not asking the society for any special rights but just the same as any other woman in the country. The support of government is missing. It never bothers to consult us in matters pertaining to us," she said, adding: "Their policies make us feel that we are wrong. We are trying to give an identity to our community."
She emphasised on the need to take sex workers organisations into confidence as they are equally concerned and exercised about human trafficking and have decades of experience in implementing their own effective anti-trafficking strategies, including setting up a Self-Regulatory Board (SRB) model.
"I am a sex worker but I don't support trafficking. I am associated with SRB, which is working to rescue trafficking victims. As of now we have come across 108 cases of minors trying to join the profession," said Renuka Prabhu from SRB, Mysore.
"They have either been sent back or been registered in institutions where they join various training programmes like computers etc.," she added.
"If there is no age proof or if there are doubts about it, SRB makes the girl undergo a bone X-ray test to find out," she explained.
Sangeeta, member of the SRB, Kolkata, pointed out that since 2001 till December 2016, 1,058 girls and women have been rescued from trafficking.
"It is this hard work that we put in starting with 31 cases in 2001 and peaking as high as 113 in 2008 that made us confident that if all sex worker's organisations get mandated to prevent trafficking of minors and women, it can go a long way in strengthening the anti-trafficking efforts."
She further added, "I request the government to please involve us while making policies and guidelines about us."
A human rights lawyer Tripti Tandon, who was also present during the discussion, said: "Although the recent Draft Bill on anti-trafficking had undergone several changes in a span of a few months, the insidious effects of the bill on the lives of sex workers was worrisome to say the least."
"With raid and rescue being synonymous with shock and fear, what it destroys is trust and respect, which women need the most, to enable them to resist trafficking as is evident in community-led anti-trafficking initiatives," Tandon said.
She said, "By conflating sex work and trafficking, the law enforcement agencies end up by policing sex work, rounding up and intimidating women especially in brothel situations."
She stressed that the time has now come for all key stakeholders to place communities most vulnerable to and caught in the cross-fire of trafficking to be at the centre of any consultation on change in law, policy or programme.
To affirm support for the over 3 million sex workers across the country who have played a stellar role in bringing down new infections of HIV, AINSW will join in a protest march on the occasion of March 8 (International Women's Day) to uphold the rights and dignity of some of the most marginalised sections of the society.