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Tuesday, 6 March, 2001, 15:31 GMT
Sex workers to combat trafficking
Sex worker delegates in Calcutta
The sex workers will set up a special network
A meeting of several thousand sex workers from India and other countries across Asia has agreed measures to combat the trafficking of vulnerable women.

The sex workers - who gathered in the Indian city of Calcutta - said they would set up a network to prevent women being targeted by trafficking gangs.

The network would also help to improve the social status of sex workers, according to conference organiser Smarajit Jena.

"It will also help fight for other social and economic causes of the sex workers like respectability in society and trade union rights," she said.

At risk

The network would be run through a special website, and would focus on women at risk in India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam.

It is not clear exactly how many women are vulnerable.

However, Ms Jena said that evidence from HIV programmes across South Asia showed that several thousand women - particularly teenagers - were being targeted by trafficking gangs.

Men at sex workers' conference
Legalisation remains a key demand
The Calcutta meeting was extended into a fourth day after attracting 30,000 visitors.

It included exhibitions and seminars on the plight of sex workers in various countries.

Legalisation

It was 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.

Many politicians belonging to different parties offered their support.

However, it also attracted criticism from some quarters in West Bengal, who said the sex trade helped spread AIDS.

Critics also argue that legalising the trade would lead to a rush of minors into the profession.

The BBC's Subir Bhaumik in Calcutta says that observers believe the idea of a network to combat trafficking may help allay fears about the numbers of minors in the sex trade.

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See also:

03 Mar 01 | South Asia
Sex workers demand recognition
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
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