Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee

DMSC is building a Chinese wall

Movement and migration of human beings across national and international borders is not new. Globally, a large number of people migrate from their places of origin seeking better livelihood opportunities and for other reasons. People who migrate also do so because there is a demand for their labour in the destination countries/sites. Such (often illegal) labour are cheap as they are always at the mercy of their recruiters who can easily get them evicted if they organize or protest against exploitative trade practices or demand proper wages and/or benefits. As in other sectors, this demand for cheap labour from outside destination zone (be it cross-border or within-country) is present in the sex sector as well; in addition, majority of the labour that come in through irregular channels are people who come from low socioeconomic backgrounds with little or no literacy and limited skills. Migration to unknown areas/ countries by poor people, without proper travel permits or adequate knowledge is often carried out with the help of unscrupulous persons or groups, who traffic unsuspecting people seeking better opportunities from sites of origin to destination sites. Although well known, this 'unofficial' migration of people has been going on for a long time. Recent evidence suggests that in response to the increased demand for labour, and for other causes, including loss of traditional livelihoods due to globalisation, trafficking of human beings have intensified. Addressing this critical issue, in particular, in respect of its impact on the sex sector, requires innovative approaches and strategies.

Ever since 1997, when DMSC activists articulated the issue at the First National Conference of Sex Workers, the Organisation has grappled with the problem of underage girls trafficked into sex work sites and of unwilling women duped/coerced/forced into sex work. DMSC is active in addressing and challenging the structural issues that frame the everyday reality of sex workers lives as they relate to their material deprivation and social exclusion. From this standpoint, it stands against any form of exploitation and infringement of rights of human beings that includes sex workers and their children. DMSC is explicit, too, about its stand vis-a-vis forced or coerced labour in any form - if sex work is work like any other, then it must be subject to certain norms and conditions - decided upon and enforced by the workers in the sector - that must be fulfilled before anyone can start as a sexworkers. Hence, DMSC is strictly against trafficking of minor girls and unwilling adult women into sex work. It is also DMSC's experience that Immoral Trafficking (prevention) Act (IT(P)A), as enforced by the police, is insufficient to combat this trafficking with any great success. Therefore, DMSC felt the need to constitute Self regulatory Boards (SRBs) in the sex work sites. DMSC reasoned that these SRBs' would serve as a double check to prevent entry of minor girls and unwilling adult women into sex work, control the exploitative practices in the sector, regulate the rules and practices of the trade and institute social welfare measures for sex workers and their children. DMSC has also reasoned that illegal movement of people across international borders maybe prevented (to some extent) by enforcement agencies and border police, but intra-country movement cannot be prevented in this fashion. Moreover, there was no existing effective mechanism to combat trafficking in destination (of sex work) sites and only a committed group of sex workers could prevent entry of trafficked underage girls or unwilling women into the sex sector.

Functioning of SRB

Since 1997, the Organization decided to develop strategies to solve the problem of underage girls trafficked into sex work sites and of unwilling women duped/coerced/forced into sex work. Informal rescue of underage girls who came into sex work sites by DMSC began in 1997. Over the next two years, the structure of DMSC Self-regulatory Boards (SRBs) was formalized. The anti-trafficking activities of DMSC can be broadly divided into following phases:

Phase 1 (1997-1998) :
Voicing concern about underage trafficking, informal approaches, advocacy and demand creation within the Organization.

Phase 2 (1998-1999) : Piloting of formal Self-regulatory Boards in selected sex work sites in Kolkata and advocacy in forums outside the Organization.

Phase 3 (1999-2000) : Demand generation and increasing reach of SRBs.

Phase 4 (2000-2004) : Self-regulatory Boards established in many sex work sites in West Bengal and, formalizing of their activities and efforts.

Newness/Originality of the Self Regulatory Board of Durbar:

The Self-regulatory Boards of DMSC are innovative in the field of anti-trafficking activities in the following ways:

Partnership with Depts. of Health, Labour and Social Welfare, Govt. of West Bengal: From its inception, SRBs have developed links with Depts. Of Health, Labour and Social Welfare of the Govt. of West Bengal, advocacy among Ministers-in-Charge and Department Secretaries are done regularly. Of late interactions are going on with the State Government on registering a State-level Coordination Committee of SRBs to facilitate rehabilitation of women and girls rescued by DMSC and, to ensure that they get another chance at changing their lives.

Innovative public-private partnerships: Self regulatory Boards are collaborative efforts of sex workers and people from the rest of the society. Sixty per cent of the membership is from die sexworker community and comprise of sexworkers, DMSC branch committee members and peer educators of different intervention projects. Forty per cent of members of SRBs is comprised of local doctors, lawyers, councillors, Panchayat functionaries and local opinion leaders. Efforts are made to include, wherever possible, Social Welfare Officers, State Women's Commission members, ICDS and other government functionaries.

Focus of SRBs is to make recruitment of underage girls into sex work unviable for brothel-managers and madams. The central strategy is, therefore, rescue and rehabilitation of underage girls or unwilling women forced! coerced into sex work; SRBs concentrate their maximum energy and effort at identifying; rescuing and repatriating/ rehabilitating girls/women trafficked into sex work. DMSC feels, that the central focus should be on the trafficked girl/woman and efforts should be to rescue, repatriate and/or rehabilitate her. DMSC activists, being sexworkers and residing in sex work sites, are uniquely positioned to do this successfully. In areas where SRBs are functioning, trafficking of girls/women for sex work has become unviable for traffickers and other site controllers.

Standardised guidelines, history-taking and medical examination formats are used by SRBs for rescue, repatriation, rehabilitation and follow-up of women trafficked into sex work. S Networking and partnership with the police: SRB members regularly liase with the local police and continue advocacy of their activities with the district and state police. In a number of sex work sites, local police entrust SRB with rescue/rehabilitation of underage girls.

Maintenance of comprehensive documentation, including photographs of rescued persons by DMSC.

Rehabilitation of rescued girls in state-approved shelters and maintaining contact with them to ensure overall development of rescued girls with the aim of improving their chances in life. This is the central post-rescue thrust area for DMSC: providing access for the rescued girls in to nonformal education, vocational trainings and cultural activities. This is in contrast to the rescue of underage girls by law enforcement agencies - whose work ends, for all practical purposes, after the girls is rescued and put into a Govt. run rehabilitation home.

Other efforts: To improve the quality of lives of sexworkers and their children and to give the rescued women/underage girls better chances in life. DMSC runs adult literacy classes; education centres for children/underage girls and provides skills training in handcrafts.

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