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International News

Prostitutes Plead for Their Rights in India

March 2, 2004

Around 5,000 sex workers holding a conference in Calcutta called for the government to legalize prostitution and homosexuality in an effort to fight the spread of HIV/AIDS in India. The conference was organized by India's National Network of Sex Workers, and attendees say legalizing the trade could deter harassment by police, pimps and the mafia. They also argue that decriminalizing homosexuality would encourage gays with HIV/AIDS to seek treatment.

"Homosexuality is rampant, but it's all hush-hush because we know if we come out in the open, we will be ridiculed," said male sex worker Rahul Das. India is second only to South Africa in its number of AIDS patients, but many gays with the disease are afraid to seek treatment, fearing stigma and punishment: Homosexuals can now be imprisoned for up to 10 years.

Bipul Chakraborty, a 27-year-old male sex worker, told an audience comprised mostly of women prostitutes from Calcutta's Songachi red-light district that rape and harassment plague male sex workers as well. "Our problems are similar to yours and we expect you to help us through your organized movement," he said.

According to the Durbar Mahila Samanway Committee, a Calcutta-based women prostitutes' forum, there are around 2 million female prostitutes in the country. Figures for male prostitutes were not available, although Calcutta alone has an estimated 5,000 male sex workers.

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In addition to lobbying for legalization of the sex trade, the National Network of Sex Workers runs anti-AIDS campaigns, health clinics and development programs for children of sex workers. Last year, nearly 610,000 Indians contracted HIV, pushing the overall number of infected Indians to around 4.5 million, a study funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation reported.

Back to other news for March 2, 2004

Adapted from:
Associated Press
02.28.04; Nupur Banerjee



  
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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
 

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