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Won’t let Anti-Trafficking Bill exploit us: Sex workers

Ahead of the Monsoon Session of the Parliament that has started on July 18, all the lawyers, child rights activists, sex workers, transgender activists and educators have come in unison and opposed the new Anti-Trafficking Bill which is scheduled to be tabled during the session. Activists have appealed to the Parliamentarians that the draft legislation should be sent to the Standing Committee as it is hinting towards the criminalisation of the voluntary sex workers and transgenders.

When AV spoke to Dr Richa Rastogi, a social worker, she expressed, “There shouldn’t be any other changes made in the bill. Even the small part of these areas will attract the next generation. This activity should not look striking. It should be completely abolished for a better future. If they feel that there is no other option to work, in such circumstances, the government should aid them to pursue training in small-scale industries. If they allow voluntary sex workers, who knows that they forced a girl and threaten her to agree to their demands. Pluck the root directly and abolish this underground business.”

The provisions of the Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2018, which was drafted by the Union Women and Child Development (WCD) Ministry received an approval by the Cabinet in February, is aimed at increasing prevention, rescue and rehabilitation; it does that by safeguarding all trafficked victims and send them to rehabilitation homes run by the government and other voluntary agencies. The new bill includes a clause that makes the transmission or even exposure to HIV in an instance of trafficking among one of the ‘Aggravated Offences’.

LGBTQ rights activist Vikramaditya Sahai said, “When a law recommends life imprisonment for trafficking leading to AIDS or begging or injecting of hormones, it will ultimately lead to the criminalisation of trans-identities.”

He further stated, “If  sex workers are sullied, they won’t be able to go to the Court because they will be immediately understood as exploited, trafficked and sent to rehabilitation. The law will lead to an increase in violence against sex workers.”

However, it is believed by the activists that sex workers’ collectives have been left out of consultations by the government in drafting this bill. Sex workers are also against human trafficking and have an abundance of experiences in implementing their own effective Anti-Trafficking strategies like the Self Regulatory Board, which has successfully checked the entry of minors and non-consensual persons forced into sex work. Instead of adopting a top-down approach to trafficking, the government must inculcate these successful models and strategies into any anti-trafficking efforts.

Samapathik Trust President and LGBT activist Bindumadhav Khire mentioned, “Sex work is not illegal if a person is doing it for their livelihood but there are certain rules and regulations imposed. Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act specifies provision relating to it. Law prohibits such activities when it harms the society. But if the bill passes there are more possibilities of exploitation to the voluntary sex workers.”

Voluntary sex workers will be severely hit by the bill, according to Nisha Gulur, head of the National Network of Sex Workers. Before drafting any bill, all stakeholders must be consulted. But according to Nisha, the sex workers’ community which is one of the biggest stakeholders in Anti-Trafficking legislation has not been consulted at all before the drafting of this bill.

Transgender activist Gauri Sawant exclaimed, “First thing we need to understand is that sex work is not legalised and the government is not legalising it. If such things are happening practically, why does authority want to give priority to passing such bills? It is a failure on the part of the government as they are not being able to legalise homosexuality and delay to pass the section 377.”

The activists have also argued against the moralistic nature of the ‘raid-rescue-rehabilitate’ model that the bill endorses. The bill’s attempt will remain unsuccessful to attain its goals in terms of compensation for the victims and a scope for rehabilitation. As studies have shown that most women who are sent to rehabilitation homes from sex work return to the profession once they get back to routine on their own. The focus of the bill remains on delineating offences instead of providing a meaningful rehabilitation model.

Human right activist and Lawyer Manisha Rote commented, “In India, law does not permit prostitution; forceful rehabilitation is also a violation of human rights. She has the right to live accordingly. The government has to come up with Manusmruti for women so that’s why this government wants to impose such law. This bill will not make an impact on anything as there are many laws which already exist but are not implemented yet.”

According to experts, prostitution is not legal in India and while those in the government have accused activists of opposing the bill as a backdoor for legalising sex work has failed to observe that India already has several laws that are used to prosecute trafficking crimes.

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