2002-10-24 00:00:00

Poor social status and casteism have driven hundreds of women from their homes in Andhra Pradesh state into the sex trade, according to a recent study on women trafficking in India.

The study, sponsored by Catholic Relief Services, shows that sex workers in all major Indian cities include a large number of women from Andhra Pradesh.

The research was conducted by Prajwala (glowing), a voluntary organization managed by Montfort Brother Jose Vetticattil, and Sunitha Krishnan, a Hindu activist in Hyderabad, capital of Andhra Pradesh state. The findings have been published as a book, "The Shattered Innocence."

Touts promise jobs and marriage to lure girls aged 12-13 into the trade, the study found out. It also reveals that 80 percent of sex workers aged 12-35 in the tourist haven of Goa state come from Andhra Pradesh. Moreover, Andhra women account for 45 percent of prostitutes in Delhi, 28 percent in Mumbai, and 3 percent in Kolkata. Krishnan says the published findings "underplayed the figures" to avoid "greater shock and disbelief."

The study found that 80 percent of women in the trade came from "socially and economically disadvantaged families." Only 15 percent were literate.

"The study should be an eye-opener to all," Andhra Pradesh Home Minister T. Devender Goud said at the Prajwala book launch on Sept. 15. He commended the "painstaking efforts" made to unearth the facts, which he said are shocking. Minnie Mathew, principal secretary of the state´s Department of Women and Child Welfare, claims that for "every case reported, 100 go unreported."

Brother Vetticattil told UCA News the researchers came to know of the trade through networking with 22 NGOs in the state. Voluntary groups in Delhi, Goa, Kolkata, Mumbai and other cities helped them gather more details, he added. Crediting Krishnan for the research, he pointed out that the 30-year-old woman was "a familiar face" among brothel owners because she visited them earlier as part of her doctorate course on issues related to sex workers.

Getting into brothels, says Krishnan, "was easy, getting out was difficult" because owners suspected she had come to rescue women of Andhra Pradesh. Most people fail to understand the "cumulative impact of the trauma" that the victims suffer due to the "serious physical, psychological and sexual abuse" they undergo.

According to Brother Vetticattil, the study has helped bridge a divide between the government and NGOs. The state government has donated land for four pizza outlets that are to be wholly managed by rescued victims. Hyderabad, some 1,400 kilometers south of New Delhi. Some corporations, he added, have also pledged support for the rehabilitation of rescued victims.

Most Prajwala staff members, Brother Vetticattil said, are rescued women. About 100 such women now work as counselors for HIV and AIDS patients in government hospitals across the state, he also noted.

A 1994 government study showed the country having some 2.3 million women prostitutes. Patita Udhar Sabha (Indian council for the liberation of the depressed), an agency working for the rights of sex workers and children, estimates there are now some 275,000 "kotha" (prostitution places) in India.

Patita Udhar Sabha also says India has some 1,100 red-light areas in the heart of cities and on highways. According to the organization, sex workers and their children (about 5.1 million all over India) live in "sub-human conditions, often with 30 to 150 accommodated in a single kotha.


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