The PLRI meet in India
A meeting about research on human rights, migration, trafficking and sex work took place at the Royal Orchid Resort-Galaxy Goa, India from 11 – 12 February 2009. It was hosted by the Centre for Advocacy on Stigma and Marginalisation (CASAM). The meeting marked the launch of a new publication from CASAM – Brothel Born and Bred – written by the children of sex workers. It was followed by the first meeting of the core partners of the PLRI.
The children of sex workers
Brothel Born and Bred is a book written by the children of sex workers in their own words. It makes visible a group that is rarely considered in discussions about commercial sex. Children of sex workers are often forced to hide their parent’s occupation or suffer stigma and discrimination – causing considerable damage and distress. This book brings out into the open some of the difficulties faced by the children of sex workers but also tells tales of love and pride. As Yellawwa Appanna Kenchkanawar puts it,
“I don’t feel sad that my mother lives in this alley. My mother works so hard to educate me. There is a big difference between me and ordinary girls. My mother works very hard…all these people in our small house have very big hearts. I am going to fulfil all their hopes. I will become a great person. I will bring glory to their names. All this while living in this alley!”
Improving research on sex work and its uptake by policy makers and practitioners is vital for the realisation of human rights, improved public health and development. However the current body of knowledge on sex work is, on the whole, of poor quality. Where excellent research exists it is difficult to access and rarely informs policy and law. This leads to a reinforcement of negative social norms that marginalise sex workers and poor public policy which further entrenches stigma and discrimination and prevents effective HIV programmes for sex workers.
The meeting provided an opportunity to think seriously about how this challenge can be overcome.
Human rights and trafficking
Research presented at the meeting showed that the ‘tool’ of human rights has often failed sex workers. When sex work is interpreted as immoral – or a human rights violation – human rights can become an oppressive instrument to those who want to sell sexual services for economic or other reasons. As one participant put it, “I fight for rights at the ground on a day to day basis and the formal framework of rights does not have much relevance – our interpretation goes much further.” However, others pointed out that the fact that sex workers have dared to assert their rights to overcome injustice and indignity offers hope that human rights may provide protection and the opportunity for redress when abuses occur.
Meeting participants discussed the difficulties that arise when sex work and trafficking are conflated and the misguided and damaging interventions that follow from it. This is shaping how money for HIV prevention in developing countries is being invested. They heard from researchers who had asked sex workers about their experiences in India – who found that sex workers:
- Had a wide variety of views about sex work
- Had fluid and diverse identities (sex worker, mother, safe sex educator etc.)
- Considered sex work an occupation and income generating activity
- Came to work in the sex industry through a variety of routes.