BORN IN BROTHELS: RIGHTS OF CHILDREN OF SEX-WORKERS
Saurav Kumar, 1st Year, Ram Manohar Lohia National Law University, Lucknow and Ishan Ashish, 1st year, National University of Study and Research in Law, Ranchi
Prostitution has been an inexorable truth of Indian Society. It finds mention in the centuries-old times of Mahabharata and covertly exists till date round the country. Sex trade in India is practiced everywhere, shall it be the popular areas of Sonagachi in Kolkata or the secluded villages in Mandsaur region of Madhya Pradesh. Often referred to as ‘Redlight areas’, the community of sex workers is most sequestered and neglected part of the society. No one cares to bother about their plight. The market of commercial prostitution sets off at midnight and is ceased by dawn. The chirdren born to these sex workers have no future, they sustain in the worst conditions in terms of access to nutrition, health, education and happiness. Their childhood is lost witnessing those male customers entering into the brothels and at times all that happens inside the entrance. They are subjected to stress and mental trauma. With no recourse and no one to rescue, the girls become prostitutes while the boys become pimps as they grow up.
Prostitution can be seen as a full-fledged profession and a way to earn a livelihood just like any other profession. There might be nothing wrong in it. Moreover, Prostitution is legal in India with certain activities considered illegal as mentioned in the Indian Penal Code such as soliciting services of prostitution at public places carrying out prostitution activities in hotels, etc. Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956 states that prostitutes are allowed to commence their trade in private but they cannot carry their business in public. Sex trade is not the issue here but the involvement of children in the practice has grave repercussions.
GROWING UP IN A BROTHEL AND CHALLENGES FACED BY THOSE CHILDREN
Children born in a brothel do not have a normal childhood. A child needs a nurturing and protective environment, an environment where they are allowed to live freely, where they are provided with everything to learn and develop. However, children in bagnios unfortunately do not have these kinds of privileges. The children there, as seen in several cases, do not know their father, as their mothers prefer not to tell them. Therefore, the child grows up in an environment where they could not get the guidance and support from one of their parents. They never get to feel the values, love and compassion that a child in a normal family experiences. The environment in which these children grow is extremely toxic and traumatic and their lives revolve around the brothel itself. A child’s life in a brothel is unimaginable. Children and their mothers live in a giant cement condominium with rooms for sleeping and rooms for sex — sometimes one room serving both purposes. In this place, dozens of women sleep, wake, eat, and conduct soul-scarring business with a steady stream of men as their children look on.
The children of prostitutes live the most miserable childhood. These challenges begin while the child is in the womb of its mother. Even during pregnancies, these women work till 4th-5th month of gestation, many even reported to entertain customers in their late pregnancy months. With exposure to sexually transmitted diseases, those children are most vulnerable to get transmitted. There is hardly any access to medical facilities for them. Even if available at a distance, the hospital authorities don’t allow them to access their services for they are involved in the profession of sex trade.
Where, those women charge as low as Rs. 200-500 per customer, with several days zero customers visiting them; it can be well imagined the depth of their indigence . Those children of destitute, crave for three-meals a day. Education is a distant dream. Even if, at times, those children find their way to school, atrocities don’t end. According to a report of National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), the children of sex workers are not readily accepted by their fellow mates at school, they are abused, bullied and discriminated for the place they come from. All this keeps them depressed and isolated from mainstream society. As a consequence they grow up adapting bad habits such as drug abuse, theft and robbery with easy exposure to felons and bad men who visit their locality. Their childhood remains shattered and with no option left the girls grow up becoming sex workers and victims of human trafficking while the boys become pimps, thieves, drug traders, etc.
CONSTITUTIONAL PROVISIONS AND LAWS GOVERNING RIGHTS OF CHILDREN OF PROSTITUTES
Children born in brothels face discrimination because of where they are born and what business their mothers are involved in. Every child irrespective of the fact that they are born in a brothel have certain basic rights. Right to develop is one such right which includes education as a key element. Another right is right to survive which includes identification and access to food and nutrition. Right to health is implicit under article 21 itself that these children are denied of. Right to be protected from the bad and negative elements of the society. These are the basic rights which every child should have. Legislation protecting those working in brothels with their children is Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956. This act however did not focus comprehensively on the children of prostitutes. This act was amended in 2018 and the Lok Sabha passed The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Amendment Bill, 2018 which focused on the issue of child trafficking.
The Directive Principles of State Policy under Article 39 (e) and Article 39 (f) aims to promote welfare for children. The former article safe-guard the children, men and women from abuse, the latter aims that children should be provided with opportunities to grow and develop in a healthy atmosphere.
JUDICIAL DECISIONS ON THE ISSUE
There have been milestone judgements of Supreme Court upholding the rights of the children of sex workers and directing the state to work for their rehabilitation and development. In the case of Gaurav Jain v. Union of India, the Supreme Court observed that protecting the rights of such children is an obligation of the state and held that they have the right to equality of opportunity, dignity, care, protection and rehabilitation so as to be a part of the social mainstream without any prejudice or pre-stigma. It is often found that women at brothels don’t reveal their father’s identity to their children. The Supreme Court in the case of ABC v. The State (NCT of Delhi)held that single mothers who raise their child alone cannot be compelled to reveal the identity of the father to their children, and the mother shall be considered as the sole parent of the child for all legal purposes. In another case of Sakshi v. Union of India, the Supreme Court pressed upon its view to amend sections 375 and 376 of the prevent sexual abuse of children. The judgement provides hope to these children vulnerable to sexual abuse and violence.
CONCLUSION AND SUGGESTIONS
The life in a brothel is a traumatic experience that no child should suffer through. The children have no future, no dreams and they are constantly under threat of getting influenced by the bad elements of the society. These children face infringement of their basic rights such as the right to grow in a healthy atmosphere. Some NGOs have been trying their best to make these kids' lives better and some have succeeded to some extent. These NGOs have been providing these kids an opportunity to get out of the brothels and enjoy and live to their full capacity in the outside world. However, more things need to be done to make the kids’ lives easier. Steps such as stringing the existing laws need to be done. Also, the system needs to pay attention to the three R’s, raid, rescue and rehabilitation. Law should be made so that these kids are provided with foster homes, this law should include the rules and regulation regarding how these kids can have access to foster homes where they will be provided the correct atmosphere for their upbringing. Several cases have also been reported about the discrimination faced by these children, the system needs to ensure that these kids get the same treatment and care that the other kids are provided with and an atmosphere should be created in the society against the stigma of being born in a brothel. NCRB, in its report suggested that children after the age of 15 may be provided life skills and vocational training and hand-holding till they get a job or capable to earn their livelihood and sustain themselves.It is also imperative to realize that we, as citizens, have a role to play as well. We must work on breaking the social stigma surrounding the occupation and begin to address our attitudes and biases towards this community. Children are the future of our country and we as a society need to make sure that every child is provided with equal opportunity to grow and spread their wings and fly high.
(Disclaimer- The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of Child Rights Centre.)