NHRC, India issue COVID-19 advisory calling on the recognition of sex workers as informal workers

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National Human Rights Commission, India

The National Human Rights Commission, India have issued an advisory recognising sex workers as informal workers. The 11-page advisory titled 'Human Rights Advisory on rights of Women in Context of COVID-19' lists recommendations for sex workers under the women at work section.

“B. Sex Workers

  1. State Governments may provide assistance and relief to sex workers, especially lactating mothers, as has been done by the Government of Maharashtra vide its government resolution dated 23rd July 2020.
  2. Sex Workers may be recognized as informal workers and be registered so that they are able to get worker benefits.
  3. Temporary documents may be issued that enable sex workers to access welfare measures such as PDS as many do not possess ration cards or other citizenry documents.
  4. Migrant sex workers may be included in schemes and benefits for migrant workers.
  5. Recognize that sex workers in non-traditional living arrangements are prone to domestic violence from partners and family members. Encourage Protection Officers to act on reports of violence against women.
  6. Ensure access to free testing and treatment for COVID-19 and also provide soaps, sanitizers and appropriate masks to all sex workers at different localities.
  7. Ensure access to healthcare services, especially for prevention of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections and their treatment.”

The recommendations in the advisory are based on a submission made by the National Network of Sex Workers (NNSW), who described the inclusion in the advisory as “the most critical victory for sex workers”.

The advisory has been sent to various government ministries – including the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and the Ministry of Labour and Employment – with the Commission urging for the implementation of the recommendations and calling on authorities to submit reports of actions.