“Prostitution is not inevitable, it is only about unequal distribution of power,” said author/activist Gloria Steinem talking about “Feminist approaches to combating sex trafficking and prostitution” here on Monday.

Speaking at a Press conference and later at an interaction with students of Jawaharlal Nehru University, she spoke about the dynamics of human trafficking based on her experiences. “Today we face an epidemic of sex trafficking. More people are being pushed into it than even the slave trade,” said Ms. Steinem.

According to the statistics provided by Apne Aap, an NGO that fights sex trafficking worldwide, the number of child victims trafficked globally for sexual exploitation or cheap labour is 1.2 million annually. The National Human Rights Commission estimates that almost half the children trafficked within India are between the ages of 11 and 14.

Corroborating these facts, Ms. Steinem said: “The average age for children to be pushed into sex trafficking is between 12 and 13 in the United States and between 9 and 12 in India. The perception is that very young children are less likely to have AIDS.” Quoting from her experiences in different countries, she said women who are trafficked suffer a great deal because of patriarchal structures and religions.

Speaking about the situation in India, Apne Aap Women Worldwide founder president Ruchira Gupta pointed out that socio-economic causes contribute a great deal towards sexual exploitation and trafficking of women in India. “Ninety per cent of trafficking in India is internal, and those from India's most disadvantaged social economic strata including the lowest castes are particularly vulnerable to forced or bonded labour and sex trafficking,” she said.

Ms. Steinem agreed saying that the less “valuable” women who are not expected to maintain the “purity” of a class, caste or race are the ones most likely to fall prey to human trafficking worldwide.

Speaking about the legal aspect of human trafficking and the legalisation of prostitution in some regions, Ms. Steinem said: “Body invasion is the most traumatising act…it should not be legal to sell the bodies of other people.” She also rubbished the idea that prostitution was the oldest profession, which is propounded by supporters of legalising prostitution. “It is one of the oldest oppressions, not oldest professions,” she said.

An Apne Aap fact-sheet pointed out that in India trafficking laws are not comprehensively laid out, especially with regard to the trafficking of children. “The Indian Penal Code addresses issues of buying and sale of minors, importation of girls etc…The Goa Children's Act (2003) is the only Indian statute that provides a legal definition of trafficking and is child specific,” it said.

Ms. Steinem plans to travel to parts of villages in Bihar and in Kolkata with Apne Aap to look at issues of sex trafficking and prostitution in these areas.

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