Social Dialogue Magazine
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R Jannat Fatima Farooqui Research Scholar, Department of Social Work, University of Delhi, New Delhi, India.

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This article has been written under the guidance of Dr. Naina Athale and Dr. Shewli Kumat, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, India.

Children Of Commercial Sex Workers (CSWs): Understanding Vulnerabilities To Undermine Them

Trafficking, prostitution and interwoven issues of human rights have evoked significant responses from contemporary social work and feminist research trends. However, it is often ignored that when human trafficking takes place, victimization occurs at multiple familial, social, and inter-generational levels. Limited attention is paid to children of trafficked women who are equally open to facing unique stigma and discrimination as a result of their mother's profession. These children become victims of their circumstances from birth and are often absorbed into the family trade of commercial sex-work. This research article looks into macro and micro level vulnerabilities faced by children of sex-workers; alienating them from mainstream education, health and protection services. On one hand, prenatal and postnatal exposure to unfavorable environment is researched to result in a range of adverse outcomes for these children, including physical, psychological, social and emotional development delays to trauma, neglect, abuse, and displacement. On the other hand, these undesirable conditions also reveal space systematic social work interventions in home, community, civil society and policy spheres.

Contextualizing Vulnerabilities

Prostitution, varying from its ancient cultural and religious beginnings, is researched to be one of the oldest professions in the world (Garg, 2017). In contemporary times, prostitution and trafficking have emerged as organized forms of businesses across the globe. They thrive as structured systems of exploitation of young girls, women and children and result in methodical commercialization of flesh trade.

Over the years, prostitution as a profession has taken up several forms and manifestations including street prostitution, individual escort services and community based prostitution, which is executed in brothels and red light areas. Catalytic facilitation of prostitution is associated with various dehumanizing activities like soliciting, pimping, trafficking, procuring, and brothel keeping. There are multiple stakeholders involved in commercial sex trade; ranging from pimps, landlords/landladies, touts, customers, money-lenders and CSWs themselves (Bullough & Bullough,1987). In this feudal categorization, it is the sex worker who falls lowest in hierarchy and is subjected to multi-faceted exploitation.

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Figure 1: Contextualizing Vulnerabilities of Children of CSWs

Prostitution and interwoven issues of human rights has evoked significant responses from contemporary social work and feminist research trends (Patkar, 2013). However, it is often ignored that when human trafficking takes place, victimization occurs at multiple familial, social, and inter- generational levels. A majority of anti-trafficking interventions fail to address human rights issues pertaining to ‘children of CSWs.’ As illustrated in Figure 1, children of women in prostitution emerge as an indispensable part of this exploitative contextual framework. They reside in areas of sex industry like brothels with their mothers, grow up in an unhealthy and unsafe environment and remain at high risk of discrimination, abuse, violence and neglect.

Children of Commercial Sex Workers: Identifying Vulnerabilities A large number of CSWs have children of their own or even seek to adopt other children (Ling, 2001). It needs to be understood here that despite her profession, the sex worker is a woman and has a natural desire and natural and positive right to bear a child. In her position of extreme social condemnation and rejection, her child alone is her hope for an alternative future, source of human relationship and sane survival (Patkar, 2013).

However, these children of CSWs are open to facing unique stigma and discrimination as a result of their mother's profession. As depicted in Figure 2, they face layers of macro and micro level vulnerabilities, which alienates them from mainstream education, health and protection services (Sircar & Dutta, 2011).

1. Inadequate living conditions and patterns

Besides being born with the stigma of illegitimacy, children of CSWs grow up in areas of commercial sex work, where pimps, brothel keepers, clients and other anti-social elements have a direct impact on the children’s upbringing.

These children live in small dingy, ill- ventilated rooms, lacking proper toilet facilities and water supply (Karandikar, Gezinski, & Meshelemiah, 2013). They often move around in unsanitary, congested and crowded bye lanes of the area and do not have an quiet and clean space to sleep, rest, study, or to cook and eat healthy food. Since these areas come alive primarily during night time and their mothers work until the wee hours of night, the children do not often have the comfort of following a stable daily routine of sleeping and studying at healthy timings.

2. Limited access to education

A majority of the mothers who are CSWs are themselves victims of illiteracy and dropping out of school. They, hence, have their own limitations in supporting and understanding the demands of their children’s schooling and education. A study conducted with a sample of 600 children of CSWs, it was found out than more than 25% ‘opted’ to not attend school (Pandey, 2010).

There are various reasons why these children to do have access to adequate educational opportunities. These may include not having a good school in their neighborhood, not having needed resources, time and space to study, lack of parental support to foster educational habits, facing stigma and bullying at school due to their mother’s profession.

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Figure 2: Multiple vulnerabilities faced by children of CSWs

3. No legitimate opportunities to ‘play’

While the mothers are busy with their clients, children of CSWs have few opportunities for legitimate play. They are often busy in helping with household chores, taking care of siblings, and even entertaining and serving refreshments for clients. Consequently they become onlookers and participants in unsavory adult activities, including dancing in shops for customers, consensual sexual acts, gambling, drinking and taking drugs. They often start becoming targets of commercial sex work themselves.

4. High health risks

Children living in brothels, in unhygienic and contaminated households, are often at high risk of catching diseases. Sexually transmitted infections (including HIV/AIDS) are a major health risk for children with parents who have multiple partners. Awareness of the health hazards might be present among CSWs, but many clients are unwilling to use condoms. These children are also often vulnerable to addiction and widespread use of tobacco, alcohol, opium and other addictive substances (Ling, 2001).

5. High instances of child sexual abuse

Being born and brought up in brothels, children of CSWs, especially young girls often learn to relate to others, gain approval and attention by using their sexuality, which can increase their vulnerability to sexual exploitation (Ling, 2001). They see their mothers, aunts and sisters as role-models and seek to themselves follow them into sex work. Most have their first sexual experience by the age of eight or nine, even before gaining puberty.

6. Skewed understanding of family roles and moral values

Children of CSWs are at a higher risk of developing skewed and ambiguous perception of family roles and responsibilities. A stable and nurturing father figure is mostly missing in the lives of these children. Within a patriarchal set-up, their mothers often are seen as subjects of societal condemnation and disapproval. They also witness their mothers being beaten, and humiliated by clients, pimps, brothel owners, and the police. Exposure to such distorted value systems from birth leads to psychological conception of unorthodox morality, in which commercial sex work, violence and victimization of women is normalized in day-to-day life.

7. Lack of future opportunities

Children of CSWs know they are not accepted by society and are subjected to a sense of insecurity and shame about their birth and family. Stigma and societal marginalization results in lack of future job prospects. Young girl children become prone to becoming CSWs themselves. Young boys, on the other hand, become involved in the sex trade, either directly as pimps and trafficking agents, or indirectly by working in local clubs, selling drugs or alcohol. Even if these children do not get involved in commercial sex work, they lack skills, qualifications and social and economic capital to secure formal sector jobs.

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Figure 3: Stakeholders for Social Work Interventions

Children of Commercial Sex Workers: Responding to Vulnerabilities

Social work response to these multiple vulnerabilities faced by children of CSWs also needs to holistic in nature. Instead of just working with the children in isolation, vulnerabilities should be addressed by intervening differently with different inter- related stakeholders and social structures, as represented in Figure 3.

1. Parents/Mothers

2. Community

Residing in an area of sex-industry and being an on-looker to illicit activities, which occur in this ‘community’, can be detrimental for the children and can lead to child labor and child prostitution.

3. Government/Civil Society Organizations

Long term changes in the in the lives of this section of children can be initiated through a combination of governmental and civil society intervention.

CSWs are often not seen as ‘mothers/parents’, exposing their children to multi-layered vulnerabilities. This article puts forward how prenatal and postnatal exposure to unfavorable environment can result in a range of adverse outcomes for these children, including physical, psychological, social and emotional development delays to trauma, neglect, abuse, and displacement. On the other hand, these undesirable conditions also reveal space for systematic social work interventions in home, community, civil society and policy spheres.

References:

Bullough, V. L., & Bullough, B. (1987). Women and prostitution: A social history (p. 62). Nueva York: Prometheus Books.
Garg, M. K. (2017). Society and Sex Work in The Autobiography of a Sex Worker by Nalini Jameela. Language in India, 17(7).
Karandikar, S., Gezinski, L. B., & Meshelemiah, J. C. (2013). A qualitative examination of women involved in prostitution in Mumbai, India: The role of family and acquaintances. International Social Work, 56(4), 496- 515.
Ling, B. (2001). Growing up in the Brothel. Stockholm: Save the Children Sweden.
Pandey, S. P. (2010). A study of children dependent on prostitutes in selected areas of Uttar Pradesh.
Patkar, P. (2013). Civil society initiative of a decade against human trafficking: An insider’s attempt at looking back. Human Trafficking: The Stakeholders' Perspective, 25.
Sircar, O., & Dutta, D. (2011). Beyond compassion: Children of sex workers in Kolkata’s Sonagachi. Childhood, 18(3), 333-349.