An Andhra Pradesh-based collective of survivors of commercial sexual exploitation has written to the Chief Secretary, demanding to implement a 2003 government order that calls for support for survivors of trafficking.
With the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown impacting sex workers harshly, the collective, including leaders of Vimukthi and ILFAT (Indian Leadership Forum Against Trafficking), has sought help from the government to provide alternate sources of livelihood, ration cards and monetary compensation.
The government order in question was issued way back in January 2003. At the time, the government had called for setting up district-level committees, headed by the Chief Secretary, to support and rehabilitate victims of trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation. The order suggests various measures to be taken up by the committees, headed by the district collectors and district officials of police, health and women development and child welfare departments as well as NGOs. The Chief Secretary has to head the state-level coordination committee, which oversees these district committees.
The committees were tasked with not only prevention of trafficking, but rescue and rehabilitation of victims through economic empowerment (by providing skill training and small loans for self-employment), as well as free health care and education for children of such survivors. Trafficking survivors were also entitled to white-ration cards, in order to avail various welfare schemes, as well as legal reforms to punish the traffickers and provide compensation for the victims.
A state-level coordination committee, headed by the Chief Secretary, was tasked with reviewing the activities of the district-level committees. However, the collective has claimed that the order was implemented successfully till 2013, but has been ignored since the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh.
The letter states that as per the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) Annual Report 2016-17, Andhra has 86,413 Commercial Sex Workers (CSW), while local NGOs working in the sector estimate the number to be much higher.
Many of the sex workers are unable to find alternate jobs, and are also struggling to pay rent and other bills, apart from food and medical care for themselves and their children, the letter says.
Most sex workers lack bank accounts, Aadhaar cards and other documents for proof of residence, which leave them out of government relief schemes, according to the collective. With the consequences of the pandemic expected to continue for many more months, the collective has asked the government to plan for an exit strategy for the sex workers, including â€śtransitional housing, bank loans and alternate employmentâ€ť, and that the government authorise identity proofs and ration cards, and benefits of compensation schemes that are in place for survivors of human trafficking.