Sex work in India is illegal, immoral and considered to be an invalid source of income.
Female sex workers are denied basic human rights and our legal systems are another source of violation of their rights. The police forces often aid in their persecution and media interventions only further perpetuate the idea that they are corrupting the moral order of our society. It is very ironic that the men who are equal actors in allowing sex trade to flourish are rarely convicted or held responsible for any such ‘corruption’.
Therefore, it is very easy to imagine the terrible lives that their children inherit, due to no fault of their own. Children of sex workers are most often illegitimate, abandoned by their fathers, who are customers of their mothers. Unless rescued by social workers or child care agencies, these children are denied a normal education by the mothers’ bosses or even worse, are forced into the same trade at an early age.
Even if they somehow manage to get integrated into mainstream society, social stigma and discrimination against them begins early on, which further discourages them to pave a path for themselves.
Various stories exist on how children of sex workers are singled out in schools and punished unnecessarily, they are ridiculed by peers who are taught quickly that sex work is a shameful occupation or they are exposed to blatant moral policing. These are based on the assumptions that sex work or the desire to work in that field is hereditary. These children are punished based on the assumption that like their mothers, they too are ‘immoral’ and a source of ‘corruption’.
What mainstream society very conveniently forgets, is that most sex workers have no agency in deciding their occupation, at least in India. They are usually lower caste women or belong to oppressed, minority communities. Their children inevitably, face a dual ostracism because of belonging to an oppressed social community whose identity they inherit, as well as being the children of sex workers, a socially inappropriate occupation.
The way to tackle this ostracism that manifests itself on so many different levels, is to provide an alternative perception of sex workers, to children, from a young age. By addressing the problem from the roots, we ensure that the negative and false ideas surrounding this occupation are removed. It will also encourage more sex workers to enroll their children in public schools, if they are assured that their children will not be bullied or ridiculed by others so regularly. Young children form their ideas and perceptions about sex and sex work, depending on how this is represented to them in the media and based on how their parents introduce the concept to them.
If we start educating children more freely on concepts such as safe sex, the dangers of sexual assault, the actual aspects and factors that put so many poor women on sex workers, there will definitely be a marked change in how children of sex workers are treated in mainstream society and by the media. This is turn, will continue to influence people, both young and old, on how to stop discriminating against children of sex workers and instead encouraging them to participate in other occupations and arenas of life.
There are various NGOs across the country that aim at integrating these children into life outside the red-light districts. However, such activists regularly face problems with the government agencies and police forces. Even the common public is wary of helping them out because of the delicate and sometimes, dangerous nature of their work.
By starting a conversation about sex work in our public, we can ensure that children born into this trade do not have to suffer as much as their mothers, most of whom have been forced into the occupation. We can ensure that they are not denied the opportunities given to other children, simply on the basis of the community they belong to. It is our duty to encourage them and enable them to believe that they are important contributors to our society.
– Monica Moses
CRY Intern, Mumbai
(Monica interned with CRY and was inspired to put down her thoughts as she learnt to look at life anew through the lens of a child. She is currently a student of St. Xavier’s College)