May 15, 1996

Child sex workers on the rise

NEW DELHI - Inter Press Service via Individual Inc. : Tens of thousands of girls are being forced into the commercial sex industry in India's big cities, says the U.N. Children's Fund (UNICEF).

Their clients are not foreign pedophiles, but local patrons of brothels with a preference for young girls who may have to serve as many as 10 male customers a night, the India office of the world children's body points out.

"There is a persistent public perception that the problem of sexual exploitation of children is confined to foreign tourists on the beaches of Goa and foreign businessmen in Mumbai (Bombay)," said UNICEF in a press statement.

"But the picture emerging from a number of studies and from organizations working in the red-light areas of major cities is very different," it observes. "It is a picture of children -- mostly girls -- being forced into a brutal existence in brothels where a girl serves up to ten customers a night, every night."

The girls are often sold by poor parents to brothels, "without too many questions asked." There are no definite estimates of child sex workers in India, but the figure ranges between 70,000 and 100,000 and could even be higher, says UNICEF.

To draw public attention and mobilize official and non-governmental support for efforts to eliminate child prostitution, the UNICEF India office today opened the first of a series of regional meetings in the eastern Indian metropolis of Calcutta.

This will be followed by five other workshops -- in the southern metropolis of Bangalore, the southwestern coastal resort of Goa, southern Hyderabad city and the northern capital cities of Chandigarh and Patna.

The consultations between non-governmental organizations (NGOs), academics, police and government officials are being held ahead of the first World Congress against Sexual Exploitation and Trafficking in Children in Sweden in August.

The deliberations are expected to lead to the setting up of a network of anti-child prostitution groups and the building up of a data base on sexual exploitation of children to help formulate policies and measures to tackle the problem.

The talks will familiarize policy makers, activists and law enforcers with the nature of the problem not only in India, but in the region.

UNICEF says it has strong evidence that girls from other South Asian nations, specially Nepal and Bangladesh, are not only being brought to brothels in India's big cities, but being sent beyond "to more distant destinations."

A four-year-old Indian government study of brothels in the six big cities of Delhi, Bombay, Calcutta, Hyderabad, Madras and Bangalore found up to 100,000 women commercial sex workers there. Nearly a third of them were below 20 years old and 40 percent of them had taken up the profession before the age of 18.

Most women were Indian and were mainly from six large states -- Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh. However, more than five out of every 100 women sex workers in Indian brothels are from Nepal and Bangladesh.

According to the study, nearly three fourths of them were illiterate and two thirds came from families with an annual household income of less than $150.

Though they earned much more in the profession, with more than half the women making about $88 a month, half of this went to the brothel madam. They also had to pay extra for food and board and nearly everyone sent money home. The women often borrowed from moneylenders and indebtedness was common.

Another study of 456 sex workers who were "rescued" by the police in February this year from the brothels of Mumbai -- the new name of Bombay -- found half of them to be Nepali. While a fifth were under 18 years, two-thirds were under 20.

A substantial number were sold into prostitution by a family member of someone close to the family.

A survey of 287 sex workers in Calcutta last year found 42 of them under 20 years old. The study by an NGO working in Calcutta brothels found that most of the women had been forced into the profession as children.

[05-15-96 at 15:35 EDT, Copyright 1996, Inter Press Service]

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Created: June 1, 1996
Last modified: February 8, 1997

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