Child, Children, India, Sex, Sex Workers, Child Sex Workers in India

Child Sex Workers in India

The sexual exploitation of children by means of prostitution is an old and worldwide problem.  In many countries, prostitution is part of their history and culture, existing for hundreds of years. However, child prostitution is a direct violation of a child’s Human Rights.Millions of children are forced into prostitution because of many different reasons, one being poverty and the need to survive. However, it is important to note that poverty alone does not cause millions to suffer throughout their life. Gender discrimination also plays a large role in causing such a problem, while poverty blatantly underscores the racial and sexual discrimination going on in prostitution around the world.  Discrimination, along with a general lack of education and job opportunities, forces innocent children to give up their most valuable assets: their childhood, their health and their future.

Renowned Indian News paper wrote in one of its Publication that:

“There are about 2.8 million prostitutes in India out of which 36 per cent are children, the Rajya Sabha was informed.

The common factors for entry into prostitution have been economic distress, growing consumerism, illiteracy, lack of vocational skills, migration, ill-treatment by parents and desertion by spouse, according to a study on girls and women in prostitution”.

In India, children’s vulnerabilities and exposure to violations of their protection rights remain spread and multiple in nature. The manifestations of these violations are various, ranging from child labour, child trafficking, to commercial sexual exploitation and many other forms of violence and abuse. Although poverty is often cited as the cause underlying child labour, other factors such as discrimination, social exclusion, as well as the lack of quality education or existing parents’ attitudes and perceptions about child labour and the role and value of education need also to be considered. In states like Bihar, Mizoram, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, 60 per cent or more girls dropped out before completing their five years primary education.

Underage prostitution

Many prostitutes are said to be underage, entering the sex trade as young as 12. Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal states together account for 26% of the total number of prostitutes in the country. Child prostitution is a major problem in India involving around 1.2 million children with at-least 100 million people were involved in human trafficking in India.



Much new knowledge on sex work in India came from the first major survey, in April 2011. This was performed by the Center for Advocacy on Stigma and Marginalisation (CASAM), which is part of SANGRAM, a major NGO that deals with sex workers.

According to a Human Rights Watch report, Indian anti-trafficking laws are designed to combat commercialized vice. The primary law dealing with the status of sex workers is the 1956 law referred to as The Immoral Traffic (Suppression) Act (SITA). According to this law, prostitutes can practice their trade privately but cannot legally solicit or ‘seduce’ customers in public. Clients can be punished for sexual activity in proximity to a public place. Organized prostitution (brothels, prostitution rings, pimping, etc.) is illegal. As long as it is done individually and voluntarily, a woman (male prostitution is not recognized in the Indian constitution) can use her body’s attributes in exchange for material benefit. In particular, the law forbids a sex worker to carry on her profession within 200 yards of a public place. Unlike as is the case with other professions, sex workers are not protected under normal labour laws, but they possess the right to rescue and rehabilitation if they desire and possess all the rights of other citizens.

In practice SITA is not commonly used. The Indian Penal Code (IPC) which predates the SITA is often used to charge sex workers with vague crimes such as “public indecency” or being a “public nuisance” without explicitly defining what these consist of. Recently the old law has been amended as The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act or PITA. Attempts to amend this to criminalize clients have been opposed by the Health Ministry, and has encountered considerable opposition. In an interesting and positive development in the improvement of the lives of female sex workers in Calcutta, a state-owned insurance company has provided life insurance to 250 individuals.

India’s 944 580 000 inhabitants live in an area of 3 287 590 km², with an expectation that the population will reach 1 billion in May. Almost a quarter of this total are under 18 years of age. 25% of the population live in urban areas and this is estimated to be growing annually at just over 1%. Over population and lack of education in nutrition and health contribute to the deaths of around 11 000 children each day. In 1951, 164 million Indians were living in poverty compared to 312 million in 1993-94.

There are estimated to be over 900 000 sex workers in India. 30% are believed to be children. Recent reports estimate that the number of children involved in prostitution is increasing at 8 to10% per annum.

About 15% of the prostitutes in Mumbai (Bombay), Delhi, Madras, Calcutta, Hyderabad and Bangalore are children. It is estimated that 30%of the prostitutes in these six cities are under 20 years of age. Nearly half of them became commercial sex workers when they were minors. Conservative estimates state that around 300 000 children in India are suffering commercial sexual abuse, which includes working in pornography.

In one study of 456 sex workers in Mumbai who had been ‘rescued’ by police in February 1996, a fifth were under 18 years and two-thirds were under 20. The main obstacle in the cracking down on child prostitution for the police is the issue of rehabilitation and where to place and reintegrate all the children that they rescue.

ROOTS: The problem of child prostitution in India is more complicated than in other Third World countries where it is directly related to sex tourism. In India, sexual exploitation of children has its roots in traditional practices, beliefs and gender discrimination. According to some research, child prostitution is socially acceptable in some sections of Indian society through the practice of Devdasi. Young girls are given to the ‘gods’ and they become a religious prostitute. There are believed to be around 3 300 devdasis in Belguam area alone. Devdasi is banned by the Prohibition of Dedication Act of 1982. Parents or guardians dedicating their girls are liable to five years in jail and a Rs5 000 (approximately £71) fine.


AGE: According to a madam in Kamatipura, the average age of girls supplied to the brothels in the last two years has decreased from 14 and 16 years to 10 and 14 years. A girl between 10 and 12 years fetches the highest price.

AIDS: The fear of HIV/AIDS has increased the demand for virgins and children. Clients mistakenly believe that children have fewer chances of contracting the disease. Similarly there is the myth that a man can rid himself of sexually transmitted diseases if he sleeps with a virgin. Recent Indian Government statistics put the number of people infected with HIV at 3.5million, indicating approximately three out of every 100 Indians are now infected with the virus which leads to AIDS. Almost 9 out of 10 of those people are below 45 years old.

TRAFFICKING: About 7,000 sex workers cross over from Nepal into India every year. 66% of the girls are from families where the annual income is about Rs5 000. They may be sold by their parents, deceived with promises of marriage or a lucrative job or kidnapped and sold to brothel owners. Between 40 – 50% are believed to be under 18, the age of consent in India, some are as young as 9 or 10 years old.

RURAL ISSUE: Child sex workers are not confined to big cities. A survey in Bihar revealed that roadside brothels for truck drivers in the Aurangabad and Sasaram districts offered sex workers aged between 6 and 18 years.



  • Meena was married off at 12. Soon after she was taken to Delhi by her husband, where she found out that he was a pimp. In the last three years, she has serviced up to six clients a night. The major part of her earnings goes to pay rent on the little room, the rest goes to her husband.
  • Rita was sold at 9 years old. She washed and cooked for a madam in Delhi for a few months until a client wanted a virgin. Two years later, she barely talks to anyone and spends most of her spare time painting flowers.
  • Maya, 10, was taken to Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh by her aunt who was paid Rs 3 000. When she refused to have sex with a client, she was locked in a room for two days, scared with snakes and beaten unconscious. When she came around she was raped by the client. Four years on, Maya lives in the red-light area of Mumbai. Her two year old spends the night in a crèche run by a social service organization. When he was only a few months old, she used to drug him and put him under her working cot. JUBILEE ACTION RESPONSE Jubilee Action is supporting two houses on the outskirts of Mumbai which are providing permanent homes for orphaned and abandoned children of prostitutes working in its red light district. The staff has rescued some of the 50 girls, others have been brought by their parents in order to protect their children from the streets’ influence. Having received little education on the streets, the girls are integrated into the local school system and extra tuition is available at the home if required.


Case Study: 

Asha was left to fend for herself on the streets of Bombay after her mother, a prostitute in the red light district, died. Her father wanted to sell her to a brothel owner but Jubilee House staff rescued her. Asha is now studying hard, has passed her typing exam and is happy and safe from the dangers of the streets. 111 million children of the 250 million child labour force are Indian…

  • Every 2nd child has no access to primary education in India…
  • Every 3rd girl child does not live to see her teen years in India…
  • There are no estimates of the number of children who are subjected to child-trafficking, debt-bondage, forced labour, pornography, prostitution and drugs, in India…

Trafficking of persons is the second largest illegal trade after arms sale. In 1997 according to U.N calculations, the procurers, smugglers, and corrupt public officials involved in the international trade in human beings, extracted $ 7 billion in profits from their cargo. There are no accurate statistics of how many people are involved, but it is estimated that in the last 30 years, trafficking in women and children in Asia for sexual exploitation alone has victimized over 30 million people. Everyday about 200 girls and women in India enter prostitution and 80% of them against their will. At the current rate of growth by 2025 one out of every five Indian girl children will be a child prostitute.

Every hour, four women and girls in India enter prostitution, three of them against their will.

13-year-old Mira of Nepal was offered a job as a domestic worker in Mumbai, India. Instead she arrived at a brothel on Mumbai’s Falkland Road, where tens of thousands of young women are displayed in row after row of zoo-like animal cages. Her father had been duped into giving her to a trafficker. When she refused to have sex, she was dragged into a torture chamber in a dark alley used for ‘breaking-in’ new girls. She was locked in a narrow, windowless room without food or water. On the fourth day, one of the madam’s goondas (thug) wrestled her to the floor and banged her head against the concrete until she passed out. When she awoke, she was naked; a “rattan” cane smeared with pureed red chilli peppers shoved into her vagina. Later she was raped by the goonda. Afterwards, she complied with their demands. The madam told Mira that she had been sold to the brothel for 50,000 rupees (about US$ 1,700), that she had to work until she paid off her debt. Mira was sold to a client who became her pimp.’

Over the years, India has seen a growing mandate to legalize prostitution, to avoid exploitation of sex workers and their children by middlemen and in the wake of a growing HIV/AIDS menace. 

Trafficking of children also continues to be a serious problem in India. The nature and scope of trafficking range from industrial and domestic labour, to forced early marriages and commercial sexual exploitation. Existing studies show that over 40 per cent of women sex workers enter into prostitution before the age of 18 years. Moreover, for children who have been trafficked and rescued, opportunities for rehabilitation remains scarce and reintegration process arduous.

While systematic data and information on child protection issues are still not always available, evidence suggests that children in need of special protection belong to communities suffering disadvantage and social exclusion such as scheduled casts and tribes, and the poor. The lack of available services, as well as the gaps persisting in law enforcement and in rehabilitation schemes also constitute a major cause of concern.


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  1. Pingback: Child Sex Workers in India | Masood Nabi Khan

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