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 Sunday, 5 January, 2003, 13:44 GMT
Indian sex workers fight for rights
A sex workers' rally
Indian sex workers rally for recognition of their rights
At least 200 sex workers in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu have formed an organisation to seek recognition and to protect their rights.

The group is named Indra Female Peer Educators Collective or EFPEC.

Unlike some other states in India, the sex trade is illegal and prohibited in Tamil Nadu and is punishable with imprisonment and a fine.

Tamil Nadu

In a socially conservative state where prostitution carries a strong stigma, this is considered to be a bold attempt at social reform.

The president of the group Shanthi has told the BBC that the primary aim of the organisation is to prevent other women and their children from being sucked into this trade.

Working as a non-government charity organisation the group will also provide education to the children of the sex workers.

Tamil Nadu sex workers have already formed, what they call, 'a thrift society' to encourage their members to save money to fall back upon when they become older and are thrown out of their profession.

One of the new group said that the organisation woud also help when the sex workers are harassed by the police or the pimps.

If one of their members is arrested by the police the group will provide legal help, arrange for the bail and look after their children while they are in police custody.

Sex workers' daughter
Children are particularly vulnerable

Tamil Nadu is the state where the number of HIV infected people is said to one of the highest in India. The EFPEC will also work to promote health awareness among the sex workers.

The group will initiate an Aids prevention programme by promoting the use of condoms and organising frequent health checks.

The EFPEC will also launch a rehabilitation programme to provide vocational training and alternative employment for sex workers.

One of the biggest problems they now face is to find shelter for those who want to move out of notorious areas.

The EFPEC has now appealed to the government to provide housing facilities.

Vocal protests

This is not the first attempt to solve the problems of sex workers in India. In the last few years sex workers in many parts of India have successfully campaigned to highlight their plight.

In March 2001, Calcutta sex workers' union, the Durbar Mahila Sammanoy Samity, organised a meeting of several thousand sex workers from India and other countries of South Asia to discuss the increasing problem of trafficking of vulnerable women.

The meeting agreed to set up a network to prevent women being targeted by trafficking gangs.

In may 2001, Indian sex workers took out a huge May Day procession protesting against the Indian Census Commission decision to include them in the same category as beggars, vagabonds and street children in the national census.

The protest was organised by a non-governmental organisation, Bharatiya Patita Uddhar Sabha.

They argued that sex workers were like industrial workers, and that they worked very hard to earn their living.

They took strong exception to the argument put forward by the then head of Census Commission, J K Bantia, that the government did not recognise prostitution as an economic activity.

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25 Jan 01 | Asia-Pacific
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