‘Draconian’ clause in Anti-Trafficking bill worries sex workers

“We are against forcible trafficking, but the law mandates arrest of clients, which hits our livelihood. As long as it is consensual sex between adults, it should be out of the purview of the law”, argues Alivelu of Chittoor district and secretary of National Network of Sex Workers (NNSW), who is in-charge of seven southern States.

“Sex work is different from trafficking. When we get into the field with full knowledge of the consequences, how do we become victims? Haphazard implementation of the law projects us either as victims or criminals, but certainly fails to catch the real traffickers,” says Devi, a sex worker and president of a community-based organisation (CBO) that has Guntur, Krishna and West Godavari districts as its area of operation. These are just two viewpoints aired by sex workers and activists, who find as “Draconian” the Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2018, that has been passed in the current session of the Lok Sabha.

Andhra Pradesh has a significant say on this issue, as it is identified as the source as well as destination point for many sex workers. Unfortunately, it is also one of the prime target for traffickers. A study titled “Unpacking sex trafficking” conducted by International Centre for Research on Women (ICRW) in October 2010 took three districts of Andhra Pradesh — Chittoor, Krishna and East Godavari — as its sample area and data was gathered primarily from Rajahmundry, Vijayawada and Tirupati and nearby towns to ensure a representative spread.

While the Supreme Court panel laid emphasis on preventing trafficking, rehabilitation and treating sex workers with dignity, the focus of the legislature was excessively on the first two. Women, who are into the field by their own volition, are either sheltered in rehabilitation homes or or sent back to their hometowns. “People who have opted for sex work as a profession have a right to pursue it and they do not want to be rehabilitated”, opines R. Meera, secretary of Women’s Initiatives (WINS), who works for the rights of sex workers.

With too many angles packed into it, the law is actually blamed of missing the woods for the trees. The sex workers’ concern is that the law neither lays full focus on nabbing the perpetrators of trafficking, nor on rehabilitating the victims, but encourages catching hold of sex workers, who are the ‘visible face’ to the outside world. “The proposed law, apart from not helping the actual victim, in fact, harasses the non-victim,” observes S.V. Sreeram, a Mysuru-based adviser to sex workers’ groups.

Apart from sex workers, the other stakeholders such as bonded labourers and transgenders also feel that they should have been consulted before enactment of the law.

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