Thursday, October 06, 2011

Easy money lure for teenage flying sex workers of Gangtok

She is the youngest one of her family, but her life story is like that of eldest one of Hindi movie Laga Chunari Mein Daag. Like Rani Mukherjee in the film, 20-year-old Sarita (name changed) not only earned enough to support her family, but also helped her elder sisters get married by working as a flying sex-worker (FSW) in real life. Sarita was barely 15 when she was raped by her boyfriend. “I had no idea about sex then,” she said. “I was shattered. After some days, the woman who owned the house where he had taken me introduced me to another man. I was in need of money. My father had died and my mother’s earnings as a domestic help was not enough for us. In any case, I thought I was already deflowered and how did it matter if I slept with another man. This is how I got sucked into the trade.” Like other FSWs, she made anything between Rs 500 and Rs 5,000 per session. But after marrying off her sister, she quit the trade and now works as an “outreach” worker for a voluntary organisation. At the NGO, she earns Rs 5,000 per month. “It is enough for me and my mother and I am happy that I am able to lead a life of dignity.” But often it is hard to return to normal life. “The lure of easy money makes it difficult to wean them away from the trade,” said a local NGO counsellor at the AIDS Education Society for FSWs run by the Sikkim Voluntary Health Association. Flesh trade in Gangtok or nearby Singtam in Sikkim is still rampant, albeit the only brothels that exists elsewhere is no more in business. Sex workers here do not have a fixed place of business, and they meet their clients outside in varied places. These types of sex workers are called Flying Sex Workers (FSW). It is estimated that there are more than five hundred FSWs in Sikkim and they work in different places in a discreet fashion. Most of these women are school-drop outs and do not possess ample knowledge about STIs (Sexually Transmitted Infections). Moreover, there are very few prominent organizations in Gangtok which equip them with proper Sex Education and provide them with Regular Medical Checkups (RMC). “It is generally the boyfriends who introduce them to the trade,” and “Often, the inhibition is lost after the first physical relationship and the girls are willing to take risks if it means extra money.” Like Sarita, 18-year-old Doma from rural Sikkim, too, had been brought to the flesh trade by her boyfriend. “I am trying to get away,” she said. “I want to get married, settle down and have a family of my own.” The number of HIV patients in Sikkim has reached 199 in 2010, 15 years after tests for the disease began in the state. There were only two HIV patients in 1995 when the tests were introduced in Sikkim, categorised by the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) as one of the lowest prevalence states in India. V. Singhi, the project director of the Sikkim State AIDS Control Society, said 28 persons had died of AIDS after 1995. “According to our records, the number of surviving AIDS patients in Sikkim is 111 and they are in different age groups. Most of the patients are in the age group of 20-39 and they total 106,” said Singhi. The project director said there were only two HIV patients in Sikkim in 1995. “Fourteen persons tested HIV positive in the state in 2005 when the Sikkim society was established in Gangtok. But today, the number is 199. Three patients are below 10 and 152 are aged between 20 and 39,” said Singhi. He added that Sikkim falls under the low HIV prevalence group of C & D categorised by the NACO. The society has been working extensively with NGOs, the STNM Hospital in Gangtok and four district hospitals to provide counselling and assistance to high risk group-commercial sex workers, intravenous drug users (IDU) and migrant labourers. “We have roughly 700 commercial sex workers registered with six NGOs under us in Sikkim. They are provided with general counselling and free condoms along with medical treatment for sexually transmitted diseases,” said Singhi. He added that actual number of commercial sex workers in Sikkim is much higher than those registered with the NGOs.

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