High rent forcing sex workers out of homes

Mar 08, 2013, 06:40 IST | Naveen Nair

Surveys conducted by an NGO have shown that while number of brothels rose sharply from 2011 to 2012, the number of prostitutes living the area dwindled; most of them now live in affordable suburbs, but return every evening for business

A recent survey conducted by the NGO Prerana Society has revealed that the number of sex workers living in red light districts has gone down, when compared to figures obtained in previous years.

The number of brothels, however, has risen. But casting aside any optimistic conclusions, the NGO members claim that this drop could safely be attributed to the fact that most of the sex workers have started moving towards suburban areas, as the cost of living in the city precincts like Kamathipura and Falkland Road have shot up.

Prerana Society works towards ending second generation prostitution and protecting women and children from the threats of human trafficking, by defending their rights and dignity, providing a safe environment, supporting their education and health, and leading major advocacy efforts. They play a major role in creating awareness about HIV and ensuring that sex workers practice hygiene and safe sex.

They visit the slums on a daily basis and conduct surveys on a yearly basis to keep track of the number of brothels, and the sex workers in them. In 2011, Prerana’s surveys had revealed 436 brothels in the red light districts. The number went up to 474 with the discovery of new brothels in 2012. This, even after a few of the buildings denied entry to those conducting the survey. The survey also revealed 18 new brothels in the Jamuna Mansion, which the society members had no knowledge of earlier.

The population survey, however, revealed that the number of sex workers living in the red light districts in south Mumbai area had dwindled. When the society members tried to analyse the possible reason behind the fall in numbers, they found it to be the high cost of living. A few sex workers confirmed that they could not afford the expenses of living in south Mumbai.

They claimed that the rent for a tiny room costs them around Rs 3,000 rupees a month, while they only not about Rs 8,000 a month. Certain brothel owners charge them Rs 250-500 a day for use of the rooms in their premises. This forced several women from the red light districts to move to suburban areas in search of new living quarters.

They have started migrating to areas like Kalyan, Titwala and Kharghar, where they can live in larger rooms while paying less in rent. However, during the evening hours, these women return to the red light districts south Mumbai for business. Priti Patkar, executive secretary, Prerana, said, “More and more women are being pushed into the sex trade or are being sold to brothel owners. We cannot say that the number of sex workers is going down. Prerana is helping these women in every possible way but it is a very long process.”

Patkar confirmed that awareness among the sex workers regarding HIV is now far more in comparison to that in previous years. Sex workers try to negotiate with their customers regarding the use of condoms, but convincing every customer is an impossible task, they say. This means that sex workers are still being infected with HIV.

According to experts in Prerana, several brothel owners have started selling off their property to builders or buyers. The new owners have not rented them out to brothels for prostitution, but have opted to rent them out to for small-scale industries that manufacture bags and do embroidery work. This is one of the chief factors contributing to a fall in the population of sex workers in these districts. On an average, the society records around 25 deaths a year among sex workers they have interacted with.

Uphill task
So far, Prerana has provided protective and developmental help directly to 10,000 children and worked indirectly with 15,000 children born to women in the red light area. They have worked with 30,000 sex workers and provided victim assistance services and post rescue operation inputs to 750 children rescued from brothels. They have also provided legal aid to 2,250 children. 

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