The report discovered that 5.5% of sex workers were minors. Many of them aged between 15-17 years old.
Inside Mumbai brothels, there dwells an alarming number of underage sex workers. Youngsters who face daily struggles from the issue of trafficking.
In years past, their voices have remained unheard. Now, a new report uncovers the true realities of sex slavery.
The Maharashtra State Commission for the Protection of Child Rights and International Justice Mission (IJM) are the organisations behind this shocking report.
After extensive research, interviewing various sex workers and analysing hotspots, they have uncovered the truth of India’s sex trade.
Overall, 15% of Mumbai’s commercial sex establishments provide underage sex workers. For just one city, this serves as a worrying statistic; one that shows the urgency to tackle child prostitution.
This is exactly what IJM aims with the latest findings in the report. Bringing the issue into the spotlight and eradicating it.
As part of the extensive research, the two organisations explored 15 hotspots within Mumbai, Thane, Virar and Navi Mumbai. Areas that contained an array of sexual establishments. Altogether, they surveyed 1,162 brothels, 218 ladies’ bars, 19 silent bars and 10,082 sex workers.
From this analysis, the report found two hotspots named Panvel and Borivali that contained the highest number of underage sex workers. In addition, Grant Road had the most locations in which the sex trade took place, specifically 445. Bhiwandi followed with 389 brothels, bars and lodges.
They also analysed Andheri, Turbhe, Dombivali, Thane, Mira-Bhayander, Bhandup, Chembur, Bhiwandi, Ulhasnagar, Nerul, Vashi and Kamathipura.
In these locations, the report discovered that 5.5% of sex workers were minors. Many of them aged between 15-17 years old.
With these hotspots identified and explored, the organisations wanted to see where many of the underage sex workers hailed from. Did they come from the city itself? Or were they taken from cities and villages across India?
71% of the minors originally came from the Bedia community. Located in areas of Bihar and Jharkhand, many of those surveyed hailed from the tribe, before they were trafficked into the sex trade.
The report also discovered some underage sex workers were channelled into Mumbai from various Indian cities. These include Delhi, Rajasthan and West Bengal.
The Harsh Reality for Underage Sex Workers
While the report sheds some light on the number of minors trapped in sex trafficking, it also displayed the daily struggles they face. In interviews with 15 minors, 13 of them explained how they would suffer violence. Whether it be beaten with a broom, stick, shoe or bare hands.
They would have to undergo hormonal injections. The report described how they would be given “medications and injections to make them more compliant, for birth control measures or to make them fatter”.
Through a typical day, 100,000 sex workers will serve an average of six customers. This builds up to an estimated revenue of $400 million (approx. £312.7 million) per year for the Mumbai sex trade.
The report interviewed 214 workers in private sex trades; 25 of which were minors. They would often get sent to private lodges, earning roughly Rs 500 – 1,500 (approx. £6.10 – £18.31) per customer. These would go directly to their agents, while the minors themselves will only receive minimal tips.
Regular physical and sexual abuse, pitiful earnings and trapped in a vicious cycle. This is the ghastly reality for many underage sex workers. Not just in Mumbai itself, but across the country.
Under the Police’s Radar
However, minors forced into sex trafficking is nothing new. Throughout the years, many have called upon the Indian government to take more action on the issue. For example, an organisation named Bachpan Bachao Andolan launched a campaign called #dontlookaway.
With a video depicting a young girl seemingly working as a sex worker, they revealed how these children can go under the radar. The child crosses a busy road, where many can see her entering an unknown man’s car, yet think nothing of it.
While it is hard to watch, the organisation highlighted how easily this issue can go unnoticed.
In the latest report, Sanjay Macwan, Regional Director for the IJM touched on this, explaining how those who force minors into the sex trade hide from police action. He said:
“One big revelation in nine months of this study is the flourishing private network for sex trade, its high profiteering and its criminal nature. They use social media, WhatsApp and websites to connect agents with clients which is hard for police to crack.”
In addition, the study found that agents would usually employ their underage sex workers on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Anticipating when police would arrive on routine rounds, these individuals would then hide the minors, away from patrols.
Macwan added: “The history of police action in [the] city has reduced crime within [the] city, but in city periphery, lodges and silent bars are higher and increasing.”
How do they force minors into the sex trade?
A question that could arguably lie on many lips. With many campaigns actively attempting to tackle underage sex workers; how are agents able to force minors into the sex trade?
While the report didn’t look at this explicitly, it did analyse the reasons behind all sex workers. After interviewing its sample of female workers, three key reasons stood out:
- Death of a parent or both
- Deceived or forced into the sex trade
Overall, the majority of sex workers blamed poverty, specifically 36.5%, with limited or no opportunities available to them. This means that with no other options to turn to, and with the need of income, these women feel they have to go into the sex trade.
Also, 30.8% cited the death of a parent or even both for why they became sex workers. Lastly, 13.5% claimed they have been forced or deceived into the sex trade, with no consenting choice of their own.
In these findings, this could reflect on why minors become underage sex workers. Having greater difficulty in situations of poverty and bereavement, plus a higher sense of naivety, perhaps they face some similarity?
What needs to be done?
From these findings, the report summarised a series of recommendations for the Maharashtra government. How the state can tackle the issue of minors in Mumbai brothels. But perhaps, the entire Indian government should also heed on the suggestions.
Firstly, the report advised on providing advanced investigation training to police. Particularly on infiltrating private-networks within the sex trade. Also, police need to become more aware of the power the internet and technology give to agents in finding potential workers.
Lastly, the report stressed that there needs to be an inter-state collaboration. With the key principle of tackling the sex trade’s use of minors. Vijaya Rahatkar, the chairperson of Maharashtra State Commission for Women, explained:
“We are generating awareness on sex trafficking. In most cases, vulnerable women are lured with the promise of a good job. Their rescue and rehabilitation is an important aspect, and we are also training police on it.”
While it seems the issues of underage sex workers is far greater than previously thought, perhaps this report can help make a difference. One in which police can strength their abilities in arresting agents who led minors into the sex trade. Where awareness can be created on the issue.
However, this doesn’t just lie with the Maharashtra government. Locations such as Delhi and Rajasthan also need to understand how agents are connecting with young children in the first place.
In addition, initiatives should be created to help engage with the public. The Indian government needs to impart greater knowledge on youngsters and parents on the reality of sex trafficking and that it happens.
No matter how often the issue may be swept under the carpet, sex trafficking still happens. It will continue unless action is taken.