Govt’s rehabilitation programme treats them as ‘socially handicapped’

August 25, 2014

Teenage Sex Workers
Govt’s rehabilitation programme treats them as ‘socially handicapped’
The government forcibly interned teenage sex workers in its six rehabilitation centres in as many districts treating them as ‘Samajik Pratibandhi’ or socially handicapped.
The government says it runs the centres for the training, rehabilitation and betterment of ‘socially disadvantaged girls.’ But women rights groups oppose the move calling it degrading and humiliating for the sex workers and their right to livelihood that is protected by a High Court verdict.
A policy framed by the social welfare ministry in September 2002 defines teenage sex workers as Samajik Pratibandhi Meye or socially disadvantaged girls.
The definition includes teenage girls involved in activities against morality, society, the state, culture, religious sentiment and unrecognized sex work.
In accordance with the policy, in 2004 the department of social services undertook a project for the security, education, correction, mental uplift, training, marriage and rehabilitation of the teenage sex workers.
Probation officers of the social services department, police officers and assigned first class magistrates were authorized to send teenage sex workers to the rehabilitation centres after rescuing them from brothels, hotels, parks, streets, rail, bus, ferry and launch terminals.
The policy allows sending the teenage sex workers to the rehabilitation centres on orders from courts, on certification by other institutions or agencies that they are socially disadvantaged girls.
The police has been allowed to keep under trial teenage sex workers in the rehabilitation centres pending completion of trials or after magistrates or notary publics certifies them as socially disadvantaged girls through affidavit.
Women rights campaigners and sex workers opposed the policy saying that the department of social services gave a negative exposure to the teenage sex workers in society by treating them as ‘Samajik Pratibandhi.’
They in this regard referred to a High Court verdict in support of their contention.
The High Court verdict of March 14, 2000, called the wholesale eviction of sex workers from Tanbazar and Nimtali brothels in Narayanganj in July 1999 as unconstitutional and illegal as the action deprived them of their right to livelihood.
The court had also directed the government to work with UNDP’s rehabilitation project that was operational at that time.
Women’s rights lawyer Salma Ali, who was among the writ petitioners challenging the eviction of Narayanganj sex workers, told New Age on Saturday that sex workers were being humiliated for the second time by rehabilitating and treating them as pratibandhi.
Sex workers are victims of circumstances for which the government, the society and the families are equally responsible, said Salma.
Women activist Habibun-Nessa, said on Sunday that she had opposed the framing of the rehabilitation policy and also naming the rehabilitation centres a ‘Samajik Pratibandhi Purnabashan Kendra.’
She asked the authorities to first change their mindset to be able to take a positive outlook toward the teenage sex workers.
She expressed doubts whether the Children Act was followed while naming the rehabilitation centres.
Habibun Nessa asked the authorities to create the atmosphere and facilities in the rehabilitation that would encourage teenage sex workers to go there on their own accord for a better future.
She opposed forcible sending of the teenage sex workers to the rehabilitation centres for the production of various commercially lucrative items.
Manusher Jonno Foundation’s Mohuya Leya Falia said that the authorities had no right to humiliate a globally accepted profession.
She also reminded the authorities of their obligation not to violate the High Court directive regarding sex workers.
‘Do we call all those in this society engaged in bribery and other immoral activities samajik pratibandhi,’ she asked.
Bangladesh Sex Workers’Network president Joya Shikder called it illegal for the department of social services to describe sex workers samajik pratibandhi or socially handipacapped.
It is humiliating to the globally accepted profession that is also protected by the verdict the High Court gave following eviction of sex workers from Narayaganj, she said.
She said that the HC had prohibited eviction of the sex workers without rehabilitation.
As sex workers are there in every country, it is the duty of the government to protect the profession in accordance with the court verdict, she added.
National Human Rights Commission member Kazi Rezaul Haque said that a better expression could be used to describe the sex workers that would not humiliate them as the description Samajik Pratibandhi does.
Social Services Department director general Mohammad Saidur Rahman defended naming the rehabilitation centres as ‘Samajik Pratibandhi Kendra’ or Centres for the Rehabilitation of the Socially Disadvantaged Girls as a positive decision.
He said that the term sex-workers was deliberately avoided as it provides a negative perception about them.
‘Sex workers escape from the rehabilitation centres as they do not like leave their profession,’ he added.
Social Services Department’s deputy director for vagrancy programme Md Iqbal Hossain said on Sunday that there were 146 sex workers in six Samajik Pratibandhi Kendra— in Kushtia, Brahambaria, Faridpur, Sylhet, Barisal and Bogra established in 2004.
A total of 961 sex workers have so far been rehabilitated and they were later released after contacting with legal guardians or arranging their marriages.

-Input from New Age

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