UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women calls on India to take measures to protect Human Rights of Sex Workers

Veshya Anyay Mukti Parishad (VAMP) and SANGRAM, two sex workers' rights organisations and NSWP members based in Sangli, India have praised the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women's report calling on the Indian Government to review the legislation that criminalises sex work. The report also called for the Indian Government to protect the human rights of sex workers. 

The "Report of the Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, its causes and consequences, Mission to India" was submitted by the Human Rights Council for consideration to the UN General Assembly on 1 April 2014 and was based on the India mission undertaken by the Special Rapporteur in April 2013. The report is not yet available publically. The Rapporteur will publish her global report after June 2015 once all country visits have been completed.

The Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, Ms. Rashida Manjoo had received written submissions and listened to depositions from women's organisations, networks, affected individuals, care givers across the length and breadth of India during her visit. The report highlights the violence and rights violations faced by women in the private and public sphere through state and non-state actors. The report underscores that the discrimination and violence impedes the enjoyment of rights in every aspect of life from civil and political, to economic, social and cultural rights.

The report highlights four areas where rights of sex workers are being constantly violated i.e. violence faced within sex work and as a consequence of being a sex worker with family, community and law enforcement; absence of redress and access to justice for violations; forced detention and rehabilitation of sex workers.

Perhaps for the first time ever, the Report of the Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, has underscored the need to address the violence faced within sex work from state and non-state actors and the lack of avenues for legal redress. It notes that sex workers in India are "exposed to a range of abuse including physical attacks, and harassment by clients, family members, the community and State authorities". It further states that "sex workers are forcibly detained and rehabilitated and consistently lack legal protection"; and that they "face challenges in gaining access to essential health services, including for treatment for HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases".

Calling for the separation of efforts to combat trafficking from sex work the report reiterates that conflating sex work with trafficking has led to assistance that is not targeted for their specific needs. It has also led to coercive rehabilitation measures by the State.

"In her discussions with interlocutors, the Special Rapporteur noted a tendency to conflate sex work with trafficking in persons and when sex workers are identified as victims of trafficking, the assistance that is provided to them is not targeted to their specific needs."

The Special Rapporteur recommends that the Government review the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956 that de facto criminalises sex work and to ensure that measures to address trafficking in persons do not overshadow the need for effective measures to protect the human rights of sex workers.

The observations in the report emerge from a sustained effort by VAMP (Veshya Anyay Mukti Parishad), the collective of sex workers in Sangli and the National Network of Sex Workers, India to draw attention to the violence faced by sex workers in India. The Network members submitted detailed case studies of violence and rights violations occurring in all spheres prior to the Special Rapporteur's visit. During the India visit, VAMP members and SANGRAM deposed in Delhi and Mumbai and gave recommendations including review of laws and policies that criminalised sex work, shutting down detention centres for sex workers, separating adult and child trafficking amongst others.

You can download the Special Rapporteur's report here and the summary written by VAMP and SANGRAM can be downloaded here.