Saturday, January 12, 2008


India turns to prostitutes to help beat trafficking
Fri Jan 11, 2008 6:39am EST

By Bappa Majumdar

KOLKATA, India (Reuters) - Authorities in eastern India have teamed up
with prostitutes as the officials accelerate a drive against the
trafficking of girls into the trade.

It is a rare display of official approval for the efforts of
prostitutes in West Bengal's Sonagachhi area, one of Asia's largest
red-light districts.

In the past year alone a prostitutes' organization has rescued more
than 550 women and girls from brothels and from traffickers, the
state's social welfare department officials said.

"The state government had no choice but to join hands with the sex
workers as they seem to be doing a better job in tackling
trafficking," said Samarajit Jana, an official from India's AIDS
control program, which helps run the project.

Younger girls are usually helped to get back to their home village.
Adults are usually given housing and job training.

"I was kidnapped and forced to entertain old men, but now all that is
past as I am trying to make a new beginning in life," said Anjali, a
16-year-old girl who was rescued last month by prostitutes from one of
the brothels crammed into Sonagacchi's crowded maze of alleyways.

Anjali is among hundreds of poor girls shifted to one of six new
government-sponsored rescue centers across the state. They learn
embroidery and sewing among other crafts.

This has been possible after the government formed an alliance last
month with the Durbar Mahila Samanwaya (DMSC), an organization founded
in 1995 that now represents 65,000 sex workers in West Bengal.

DMSC focuses its rescue efforts on minors entering the trade and those
who were deceived into joining it.

"We have realized that we are the most effective weapon against this
social evil that forces minor girls into sex trade," said Bharati Dey,
a former prostitute, who leads the campaign.

At least 20,000 women and girls are kidnapped and forced into
prostitution in India every year, the government said.

Many pass through West Bengal on their way to Mumbai, Delhi and other
cities in India, as well as the United Arab Emirates, police said.

Most of these girls are from India's northeast and neighboring Nepal,
Bhutan and Bangladesh, they said.

In India, trafficking and profiting by selling a person for sex is
illegal, but paying for sex with an adult prostitute is not.

India's Ministry of Women and Child Development wants to change the
laws to allow police take stern action against clients, but critics
have stalled the plan.

Prostitutes and groups working with them fear such a move would force
the trade deeper into the shadows.

The DMSC now plans to spread its campaign across the state and
elsewhere in India.

(Editing by Jonathan Allen and Jerry Norton)

(c) Reuters 2008 All rights reserved

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