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The BBC's Clare Lyons
"More than five thousand sex-workers are gathering"
 real 56k

Saturday, 3 March, 2001, 16:57 GMT
Sex workers demand recognition
Sex workers from India and Bangladesh
Demanding the legalisation of the sex trade
By Subir Bhaumik in Calcutta

Hundreds of prostitutes from across South Asia have assembled in Calcutta to attend a conference that seeks to press for the legalisation of the sex trade.


We are here to express our solidarity with the demands

A Cambodian sex worker
The meeting is being hosted by the Calcutta sex workers' union, called the Durbar Mahila Sammanoy Samity.

The union, with a membership of more than 5,000 active sex workers, has been at the forefront of a movement seeking to legalise the trade.

It is led by a fiery middle-aged prostitute, Sadhana Mukherji, who says she was forced into the trade by greedy relatives after her father's death.

The union has been trying to organise sex workers in the region for some time now.

Support

The two-day conference has brought together more than 200 representatives of various sex workers' unions from cities across South Asia.

Sex workers convention in Calcutta
Several leading intellectuals have been invited
Ms Mukherji says they have invited several leading intellectuals and cultural figures of Bengal who back their campaign.

Many politicians belonging to different parties have also offered their support.

Ms Mukherji says the conference will decide on the future course of the movement in the region.

It will also frame lobbying strategies for furthering their cause.

Legalisation

Legalising the sex trade is being sought to protect the prostitutes from pimps, criminals and bribe-seeking policemen.

Sex workers from south east Asia
Prostitutes from across the region are attending
The sex workers are often under pressure to pay up or face imprisonment under various anti-prostitution laws effective in South Asia.

But Calcutta's deputy police chief, Sujoy Chakrabarty, says legalising the sex trade would lead to a rush of minors into the profession.

There would be no legal measure left to counter it, he said.

That view has been also supported by many politicians, journalists and social workers.

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See also:

24 Jul 00 | South Asia
Sex workers fight for their rights
02 Nov 00 | South Asia
South Asia pressed on sex trade
30 Mar 00 | South Asia
Dhaka sex workers celebration
Links to more South Asia stories are at the foot of the page.


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