India: Over 2000 sex workers sign National Network of Sex Workers (NNSW) Statement, 25 Jan 2017

India: Over 2000 sex workers sign National Network of Sex Workers (NNSW) Statement, 25 Jan 2017

The National Network of Sex Workers has released a statement challenging the conference being organised by the "The Coalition for the Abolition of Prostitution International (Cap Intl)." The statement has been signed by over 2000 sex workers in India who reject the conflation of trafficking with sex work, and the conflation of sex work with violence.

Indian Sex Workers Critical of new Anti-Trafficking Bill

Sex workers’ organisations have raised concerns about a new anti-trafficking bill in India, called the Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill. Women and Child Development minister Maneka Gandhi introduced the bill in India on the 31st of May.Despite requests to be included in the process, the bill was not drafted with sex workers or sex worker-led organisations. Mukta, Uttara Karnataka Mahila Okkuta and members of National Network of Sex Workers, India, told media:
“we continue to be kept out of drafting processes, though it is well known that [we] are victims of badly drafted anti-trafficking laws and policies and NGOs who want to rescue us. We call on the Minister to include us in all consultation."

At least 35 women from the National Network of Sex Workers recently attended a three-day consultation in Bangalore on the draft Bill. The draft Bill was translated into Marathi, Kannada and Malayalam, with Telugu and Tamil translation offered during the consultation. The women who attended gave extensive recommendations, which will be passed on to the Ministry.The draft bill aims to prohibit trafficking of persons while ensuring that victims receive protection and rehabilitation. However, there has been criticism about the lack of definitions in the Bill. Activists are worried that the Bill will be used to further marginalise people who are perceived as victims of human trafficking, or that human trafficking will be conflated with sex work.Human Rights Lawyer, Kaushik Gupta has described how “… an individual from a financially backward environment who is interested in moving to a different state for the purpose of a better livelihood might be restricted from migrating by local village panchayats in the name of ‘prevention and protection.’ Due to the lack of definite understanding of the terminology, it will be impossible to hold the State accountable regarding the steps they propose to take against trafficking.”

“There is no definition of ‘trafficking’ anywhere in the bill”

“There is no definition of ‘trafficking’ anywhere in the bill,” said Smarajit Jana, advisor to the DMSC. “The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act defines trafficking in one way, while Section 370 of the Indian Penal Code has a different definition. And the bill is completely silent about this.”Sex workers and sex worker-led organisations have expressed concerns about the focus of the draft Bill. The Bill identifies how the crime of trafficking should be dealt with. The Bill describes the formation of committees, special courts, and rehabilitation services. However, the Bill does not define human trafficking or describe what the penalties will be if a person is found guilty.Bharathi, General Secretary of Karnataka Sex Workers Union and member of National Network of Sex Workers made statements to the media, explaining, “no one should be sent to the Corrective Homes forcibly. The consent of the victim should be taken. The corrective homes should provide counseling services. The corrective homes should keep major and minors separately."Sex worker activists are also concerned about the final section of the draft Bill, which states that the new Act would override all other laws on the subject. Aarthi Pai, a lawyer with Sangram asked, “where does the draft bill stand vis-a-vis the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act? It is not clear, and it does not clarify what happens in the event of a clash in the provisions of the two laws.”The Women and Child Development ministry is accepting suggestions and objections to the Bill from the public up until the 30th of June, and various social workers and non-profits are already preparing to send in their objections.


"Reclaiming Rights: Sex Workers Speak" ICAAP Session

A session called “Reclaiming Rights: Sex Workers Speak” was held on the first day of the 12th International Conference on AIDS in the Asia Pacific (ICAAP)  in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The conference ran from the 12 -14 of March.The session was organised by SANGRAM (India) and hosted by the National Network of Sex Workers India (NNSW) and the Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers (APNSW). At this session, sex workers from India, Nepal, Australia, Myanmar and Cambodia talked about how the decriminalisation of sex work and the involvement of sex workers in anti-trafficking initiatives are vital to ensuring their rights.Mukta from NNSW explained that their organisation is working for the rights of sex workers, full decriminalisation and against violence.Jules, from Scarlet Alliance explained that decriminalisation was introduced to the Australian state of New South Wales as part of addressing widespread police corruption. She talked about the positive outcomes it has brought for sex workers. She also highlighted the findings from the Lancet edition on Sex Work which found that decriminalisation of sex work reduces HIV and also increases access to care.Sangita from VAMP, SANGRAM based in Sangli, Maharashtra, India introduced SANGRAM and explained that they work in 5 districts with around 5000 female, male and transgender sex workers and their children in India. She said, “we believe that anyone in sex work or other trade has a right to choose. If women or others in sex work are decriminalised, we are best placed to fight trafficking."The effects of the criminalisation of sex work were then discussed in a Cambodian context by Dany. Dany explained that one of the issues they face is that “sex work is not considered work in Cambodia.” Dany then talked about the fact that in some cases the government is trying to reduce HIV by giving condoms to sex workers. At the same time, the police use condoms as evidence of sex work. This then creates a conflict between sex workers and those who implement laws or policies. Dany added that sex workers are considered “worse than criminals and imprisoned without rights.”“When sex workers question police about arrest, they say the government orders them. When sex workers ask government officers about this, they feign ignorance. So no one is responsible for sex workers rights,” Dany said, “it is great that WNU (Women’s Network for Unity) is representing sex workers, especially during arrest.”Bijaya of JMMS (Federation of Female Sex Workers in Nepal) spoke about the situation faced by sex workers in Nepal. She told the session that violence perpetrated by police is high. “Due to unclear law and arrest under specific laws, we have no human rights, healthcare access or other services. Daily, we face violence from clients, lovers, health workers, friend, police, hotel or brothel owners.”Yu yu from AMA, a sex worker-led organisation in Myanmar discussed a study called the Right(s) Evidence Sex Work, Violence and HIV in ASIA: A Multi-Country Qualitative Study. Yu Yu explained, “there is a need for a study on the violence experienced by sex workers. Advocacy is being done for government officers who do not know sex workers’ realities and harass them. The government performs studies on sex workers by supposed experts who do not know about sex workers fully, do not do proper research, do not approach us or take our views. In our study, 1300 male, women transgender and sex workers living with HIV participated.”More discussion time allowed those present to ask questions and find out more about the work being done in different countries.  Many of the issues discussed were found to be common experiences. It was concluded that the work being done must continue as the issues facing sex worker community still remain.