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Protection of Sex Workers' In The Pandemic Hit World

Imagine a situation where you have no access to the outer world, necessities, and no money to sustain yourself due to complete loss of earnings. Further, you are a member of the same working class that is being provided relief by the state but you are not able to receive the same benefits as them. So just like anyone else in crisis, you turn to organization and community to assist you in times of need but no one recognizes your work, and you are stigmatized by the whole society that does not let you live in peace. You are thrown out of your home with children who have no grain to feed upon and no water to sanitize themselves. Complete despair? This is exactly the reality faced by millions of sex workers all around the world in a bid to fight the outbreak of the SARS COV2 virus.

The lockdown imposed by the government to limit the egregious effect of the virus has come down heavily on almost all economic ventures especially the ones carried out by the vulnerable. The three-month lockdown has left them with the only option for complete utilization of their meagre savings which had earlier worked to elevate their socio-eco status and lead a better life. It has aggravated the misery of the daily wage earners/ contractual workers. Taking cognizance of the same, the government has come up with relief packages for them by providing low-interest loans to revamp their failing business. This picture differs in the case of the grey area surrounding sex workers and their nature of work. Despite being a part of this class of proletariat, the similar devastating aftermath faced by them is further worsened by the lack of relief and recognition from the society and the lawmakers. They are not capable of availing the existing relief packages to mitigate their suffering as the law doesn’t provide legal status to their profession. This makes it furthermore difficult to pay taxes and receive receipts that can be produced in front of the concerned authorities. Thus, their identity itself is attacked by the many labels provided to them by a typical society that exhibits orthodox mentality, which makes it impossible for them to perform the formalities required to procure a loan.

Engaging in sex-work can be attributed to the destitute economic conditions faced by sex-workers. In the maximum number of cases, either they are the sole bread- earner of their family or the victims of trafficking. In the contemporary scenario, with the lockdown being lifted with certain restrictions, they find it extremely difficult to resume their services as the brothels are closed and people are practicing social distancing so they do not receive interests from even their old clients. Further, due to the unavailability of the mediators who fetch clients for them have left them helpless. This dire situation has led them to adopt ways that were rarely used before to ensure their income in whatever they can even at the cost of risking their own lives. For instance: sex- workers are resorting to using social media networks to set their pictures to clients or having a conversation with them which can be categorized as oral sex in exchange for money that can be sent through online payment options. Some of these workers who are unaware of the technical know-how have started offering their services to interested clients. This exposes them to the risk of sexually transmitted diseases, and there is no way to avoid such transmission as they genuinely believe in the possibility of condom usage by STD affected clients.

In the absence of the vaccine for COVID-19 virus eradication, like any other sector, this sector has suffered a humungous setback with little options to offer as an alternate. India can take a cue from countries like Bangladesh, England, and Wales, Thailand who are taking measures to assist such a socio-economic vulnerable section of the society. Also, lawmakers must address the issues faced by them mainly through decriminalizing their profession thus changing their status quo, or by providing them with an alternative source of income. As members of society, we need to learn that they are sentient like us and are the citizens of the same country in which we reside. They are also entitled to the fundamental rights that are guaranteed by the Indian Constitution. Their needs have to be taken care of, as there is nothing more devastating for them and their children to die out of poverty, hunger, lack of medical aid, and inaccessibility to essential goods while trying to protect themselves from the pandemic by staying indoors. It is high time to shatter the taboo that dehumanizes these vulnerable sectors.


Prachi Tandon is currently pursuing law from Institute of Law, Nirma University, Ahmedabad.

You can contact them on prchtndn@gmail.com

Edited by: Swathi Ashok Nair

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