Amid COVID-19 lockdown, Andhra’s sex workers suffer without food, money, medicines

By Amritha Mohan  Published on  26 April 2020 11:28 AM GMT
Amid COVID-19 lockdown, Andhra’s sex workers suffer without food, money, medicines

Hyderabad: While the plight of migrant labourers has been highlighted by the State government in Andhra Pradesh, the same cannot be said for sex workers and survivors of sex-trafficking in the State.

On March 30, the AP State government had announced free food and shelter for migrant workers, who are stranded in the State and unable to go home due to the COVID-19 lockdown. However, closer home, the issues of sex workers amid the lockdown has not been brought to the forefront, organisations allege. Since the state-wide lockdown that was announced on March 24, business has been dwindling for sex workers in Andhra, creating troubles for them who earn on a daily basis.

“No packages have been announced for sex workers or sex-trafficking survivors in the State. Organisations like ours are trying to help them, but we do not have enough resources. The government needs to intervene as soon as possible,” says Lakshmi Priya, executive body member of VIMUKTHI, a collective of trafficking survivors.

Around 50,000 to 75,000 women are involved in sex work and prostitution in Andhra, located in and around thirty semi red-light areas in the State, according to the data provided by Indian Leadership Forum Against Trafficking (ILFAT) and VIMUKTHI. Several women also have children, and amid the lockdown, it has been hard to provide food to the children, the workers say.

‘More than half of these sex workers don’t have ration cards’

Among the many problems that affect these women are the lack of ration cards. One of the sex workers, Jaya (name changed) said that she has not been able to procure a ration card because of the stigma attached to her job, and the lack of a proper address. “Had it not been for responsibilities, killing myself would be a great option. The river is nearby. I have a child. So, I can’t take the step. I never got into the profession by choice. I thought it would bail me out,” says 26-year-old Rama, who works in Vijayawada.

‘No access to medical facilities’

Munny, an office bearer at VIMUKTHI said, “While more than half of the sex workers in Andhra Pradesh do not have ration cards, most sex workers are also finding it hard to access medical facilities, like getting their quota of ART tablets that are used to treat HIV.” Tablets for HIV are provided at ART centres in government hospitals, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they have not been available.“ Since March all government hospitals have only treated coronavirus positive people, we have not been able to visit the hospital. The tablets are given to us once in three months. For those who are running out of tablets, it is going to be difficult,” she added.

Need for government intervention

“On an average we earn between Rs.300 to Rs.500 a day. The workers in high demand, about 100 or 200 of us, can probably survive for a month like this, but for the rest of the 1,500 the situation is really difficult,” said one of the workers.

Meanwhile, the collectives HELP and VIMUKTHI have put forth a set of demands to the State government in an attempt to address the issue of the women. They have requested the government to issue at least temporary ration cards and free ration for 2-3 months through AP State AIDS Control Society TI projects. In addition, they have requested for supplementary nutrition packages for those undergoing ART (antiretroviral therapy) for HIV. Shortage of money, drinking water and sanitation facilities need to be looked into, they said.

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