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India is a home of 5.4 million children of sex workers

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There is a category of children who are often overlooked by the social scientists, researchers and society at large. This category, considered the most vulnerable, is stigmatized since their birth with no fault of their own. Often faced the worst form of human rights violation, denied basic human rights including shelter, health and education. On account of lack of political commitment, stigmatization and conventional norms in India they are excluded from the mainstream society. Victim of power structure in the community, and society at large that exposes them to vulnerable life conditions such as lack of legal protection, trafficking, and everyday violence and abuse.

India is a home of approximately 5.4 million children of sex workers and majority of them live with their mothers in red light areas (NHRC, 2008). The children of the sex workers in India are deprived of an environment conducive to physical and psychological development; living in brothel the children have limited access to education. Education as expressed by many social scientist and activists is seen as an empowering tool for them to come out from the vicious cycle of guilt, exploitation and poverty.

As per Child right convention (CRC), every child has the right to be educated and children rights have legal, political, cultural, social, economic, demographic and environment dimension.

Education empowers, provides choices and a voice to disadvantaged children and young people. It helps socio-economically disadvantaged children to break the poverty cycle and to have a better future. Education is a stepping-stone to self-development for those who are disadvantaged by creating choices, and builds self-confidence and self-reliance for individuals.

However, we as a society left no chance of degrading the sex workers and their children and with our nonchalant attitude we create high brick walls for them with very little opportunity to improve their lives and towards a life of dignity as per societal standards. These children if mustered the courage to get anyhow enrolled in school, the attrition rate is very high on account of the embarrassment over their family situation or because of lack of financial means to continue. Intrusive questions in school by other children often lead them to humiliation and a psychological inadequacy. It is extremely challenging for them to study with other children. Education to the children of sex workers is not an easy task in the Indian context as there are barriers from society, from the local community as well as from the brothel.

“…I was accused of being an evil-doer, of being guilty whenever something went wrong. Someone else broke the pots in the class, but I was blamed. I was beaten up by teachers; I was beaten up by students. I was called names, I heard people say indecent things about my mother. One day, I had had enough, so I left the school.” (Snippet from a child of sex worker)

Most of them dream of rescuing their mothers from sex work. However, in reality the children are often cruelly ragged about their mother’s profession. Their identity makes it stressful for them to continue going to school. The psychological damage is a common problem for children growing up in brothels. Many children of sex workers have a hard time with social exclusion, most children are forced to live with a deep sense of guilt or disgrace about their mother’s professional identity.

As per a survey conducted in Bowbazar of Kolkata which revealed that only about 36 percent of children interviewed attended schools. Out of which a large number of children dropout of school because of the stigma attached, abuse from the outside world and poor intermingling with peers within the school and outside school hours, these children often end up playing on the streets, running shops for the local gangs or clubs which have formed by the elder ones in the same locality. These children are exposed to relatively poor conducive environment and general poor support or encouragement towards academics.

A number of Non-Governmental organizations (NGO) are working for the welfare and benefit of children of sex workers. Efforts have been made to create opportunities for the sex worker’s children to continue their education. The NGOs provide education either through opening up residential schools in area or sending the children to government schools around the area. These NGOs also act as day care or residential Centre’s, where the mothers involved in sex work can leave their children, when they are off to practice their profession.

The qualitative study conducted by NIMHANS with the children of sex workers in Pune and Delhi revealed how all the children of sex workers interviewed had a dream of becoming something in their lives and all has aspirations and showed an unsaid wish and attitude to a dignified and better life free of any stigma. These children aren’t recognized in the society as having dignity. People look down upon them and regularly deprive them from their rights. They are often badly behaved with, owing to their identity as children of sex workers.

These children need a fair chance to live a normal life of dignity with other children, what all they lack is the acceptance from the society. No matter how many laws and policies are being framed for these children of sex workers, until acceptance and a change in the mindset and indomitable beliefs that we as a society are conditioned with, the plight of these children would remain this grave.   

  Author: Shalu Saharan (She did her post graduation in Social Work from Delhi School of Social Work, University of Delhi & working in development sector since 2014 on various positions. She is specialized in Counselling, Micro-Planning, Gender Analysis. Please write to her

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