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sex workers photo
Photo by Ben Sutherland

Prostitution is historically oldest stigmatized profession throughout the world. There are about 25 types of sex work according to its nature and places of service. The brothel is one of the oldest forms.  It is the place of trade and shelter of commercial female sex workers (CFSWs). It is considered as ‘line bari’ (a house in front of which, CFSWs stand and solicit their customer in a queue) in their own words. This line bari is typically constructed with its typical structure, process and functional dynamics differing from family in general. CFSWs set up their household with their male partner/husband and children. In their family, CFSWs are the sole earner and they play dual roles of housekeeper and finance provider. Males’ role as husbands or fathers is insignificant or absent because they live as parasite. Stigma is their prime burden of acceptance in larger society. But CFSWs welcome motherhood desperately as a cultural practice because they are well experienced about their inability to nurture their children with appropriate control and strategies.  They play both roles of expressive and instrumental leaders.  But the role of expressive leader is for a certain period in a child’s life because when their attachment and bonding are essential they detach them due to their profession. They are supplementing it with materials and monetary rewards to their children. The micro and macro world of their children construct differently with the realm of mothers’ trade and their very own sex workers’ community. Fathers’ role is ‘costless. Overall their community is imperfect for children’s up-bringing. There is no or little effort to rehabilitate them from their vicious cycle of CFSW-Child-CFSW.

How their children grow up?  From a study of a brothel known as  ‘Bowbazar’ , the oldest brothel of Calcutta ,  about 2200 FCSWs operated sex trade and all of them had their own household set up with their children. It was revealed that 92% CFSWs had not any plan for their children’s rehabilitation outside their community. They only cared their children as emotional beings and they were affectionate to them. It saved them from the stigma of barren in their community as well as a stigma of Hindus larger society. Only 8% of them admitted their children in school and supported them with remedial coaching, separate shelter and others. Even, they monitored their children’s progress regularly. They also used to hide their involvement in the trade(entertaining customer) when their children were in their room. But they did not meet success satisfactorily because of their stigma of sex workers. Children’s rehabilitation depended on multiple factors i.e. economy and educational background of mothers, dynamics of relationship with male partners/husbands. After continuous intervention through advocacy, guide, counseling, lobbying, etc.  only 1.5% children completed their graduate degree and 0.5% possessed post graduation. Among them, 80% children were females. Of them, 15% children were in public sectors job and 65% of them were in private sectors job. All of them settled outside their community,  and girls were settled in their marital lives in larger society. Apart from the above, it was revealed that 25% children dropped out from school at class II level, 40% of them at class VI level and 30% children at class VIII and 3% only appeared secondary examination. Reasons were mothers’ negligence, pressure of household work, assistance to mother for trade, non-supportive and inappropriate environment at home. Therefore, changing attitude of FCSWs and their support for their children’s up-bringing are only strategies to rescue their children from their vicious cycle. No other efforts would be more effective.

Harasankar Adhikari is a Kolkata Based Independent Social Worker

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