Growing poverty due to COVID-19 is likely to compel more women to choose sex work and enforcement agencies must engage their collectives to “prevent, identify and redress” perpetrators of human trafficking who force children and women into flesh trade instead of criminalising adult consenting workers, says the National Network of Sex Workers (NNSW) on the World Day Against Trafficking in Persons.
The NNSW also appeals that anti-human trafficking legislations must not conflate sex work with trafficking and exclude from their ambit adult consenting sex workers, whose rights must be safeguarded.
“Anti-trafficking laws in Asia largely end up further criminalising and incarcerating persons who are not trafficked i.e. the poor, the beggar, the sex worker, the transgender, the bonded labour, the juvenile, the surrogate in the name of prevention, rescue and rehabilitation instead of giving them justice,” says the NNSW in its statement. This, it says, happens because laws emphasise on victims, rather than perpetrators. The NNSW comprises 63 organisations across eight States with over 1.5 lakh sex workers as members.
The network is also vociferous in its opposition to the Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation), 2018, Bill. It was passed in the Lok Sabha in 2018, but lapsed with the dissolution of the 16th Lok Sabha before the 2019 general elections.
Several sex workers’ collectives such as the Vaishya Anyay Mukti Parishad (VAMP) in Maharastra’s Sangli and the Durbar Sex Worker’s Collective in West Bengal’s Sonagachi partner with local police teams to help nab traffickers who force minors into sex work. Such measures, argues the NNSW, have proven that the collectives are effective first responders at the community level to incidents of trafficking.
The Seventh Report of the Panel on Sex Work, constituted by the Supreme Court in the Budhadev Karmaskar v. State of West Bengal, included recommendations such as adopting community-based rehabilitation, instead of sending them to state-run ‘homes’, and also revising laws like the Immoral Trafficking in Persons Act to distinguish between those coerced into sex work and those who engage in it voluntarily, so that interventions are tailored to those who need them.