Vous êtes sur la page 1sur 7

Legal recognition for sex workers in Sri

Lanka?

The demand for sex workers is overlooked; laws would


protect sex workers from violence and harassment
2015-11-24
Despite the reluctance to openly discuss
this subject, is evident that sex workers
are abundant in contemporary Sri Lanka.
Although they are condemned in terms
of cultural and religious aspects, their
existence cannot be denied. No rational person would take up sex
work over the choice of other work. No girls ambition is to become
a prostitute as she grows. No parent or teacher dreams of a child
to sell their bodies. Even in countries where prostitution is legal,

there are no institutes to specialise in sex work. Then why is this


popular? How come it is trending? It was recently revealed that
there are about 50 000 Lankan women engaged in prostitution.
Sex workers have become a part of the community and should be
given correct attention.
This is quite a sensitive topic and is hard to approach, as the widespread
notion is that prostitutes corrupt society and bring negative values to the
social structure. While poverty tops the list, coercion and desperation may
be other reasons for women to be inclined towards sex work. In many
instances the need to provide for children would drive divorced or widowed
women opting for sex work. That reasoning goes to the thousands of childburdened war-widows especially in the North and North-East, who have
suddenly become bread winners without education or employable skills.
Drugs, human trafficking and failed adolescent experimentation could be
other possible rationales.
Sex work/ Prostitution is not legalised in Sri Lanka. We are often filled with
news about brothels being raided and prostitutes being arrested.
Organisations such as Centre for Sex Workers Rights (CSWR) and womens
rights activists have been demanding legal rights in order to create a
recognised position for them in society.

"We are labelled as bad women in society. When we are


destitute we cannot kill or steal for money like men do. What we
can do is sell our bodies. We do it for our children, we do it for
ourselves"
Should sex workers be given legal recognition or should they continue to be
as they are? What are the real reasons behind the demanding of legal rights
for sex work? Are there other ways to deal with the destitute situation of
women in Sri Lanka?
The co-president of the Centre for Sex Workers Rights (CSWR) expressed
her views on this as follows.
We are labelled as bad women in society. When we are destitute we cannot
kill or steal for money like men do. What we can do is sell our bodies. We do
it for our children, we do it for ourselves.
There are many reasons why girls/women have taken up sex work. I have
taken this as an occupation because of my husband. My husband passed

away many years ago, and I was helpless. I have two sons to nurture and I
have to do something to ensure their well being. Their education, health
and comfort are the priorities in my mind. I did not know anything about
being a prostitute when I started, I was scared, but now I am very happy.
There are many families along the coastal belt, across Wellawatta and
Dehiwala of which parents cannot afford proper education for their children.
Their pretty daughters always tend to resolve to sex work. That is one of
the main methods of income for such families.

When the Daily Mirror


inquired whether every
female engaged in the sex
trade was contet, she
assured that they were.
People have their
interests. The availability of
a prostitute is a way of
satisfying a human desire.
If my son wants to have
sex, he cannot go to the girl
next door. However, he can
go to a prostitute to fulfill
what he wants easily,
where both parties are
happy to be with each
other. Many little children
are raped and abused
because men have desires.
Establishing prostitution will
help reduce social crimes
and will create a safe
environment for our
daughters to go in public.
Asked about why they
demand that sex work
should be legalised, she
said, We are labelled as
bad women in society. No
one really understands the situation we have been compelled to be in.
When we are destitute we cannot kill or steal for money like men do. What
we can do is sell our bodies. We do it for our children, we do it for ourselves.

Policemen always look down upon us, arrest us and disgrace us. I have
gone to countries like Singapore and Thailand where sex workers are
licensed. They treat us with much respect and consider us as ordinary
humans. What we asked for was social respect, proper recognition and the
right to do our job as we like. We are always cornered, condemned and
humiliated in social networks and the media. The demanding of legal rights
was the last option we have, then we will not be tainted and regarded as
inhuman.

"Whatever affect sex work has on society has happened by now,


as it already exists. Us pretending that it doesnt is what brings
harm to society - Mrs. Kumudini Samuel"
Political activist Wickramabahu Karunaratne emphasised that justice be
given to the existing sex workers in Sri Lanka.
What is poignant about this is the exploitation of these poor women by
arresting them when men are left alone although they clearly violate the
vagrancy ordinance in other ways. This is what I speak against Wickramabahu Karunaratne
There is no proper law prohibiting sex work in Sri Lanka. What exists is the
Brothel Law and the Vagrancy Ordinance (Punishment of persons behaving
riotously or disorderly in public streets). The brothel law was formed long
time back and does not actively function. It is the Vagrancy Law that is used
by law-executing bodies to apprehend sex workers. A majority of women in
our country have chosen sex work because of their children. They have no
way of leaving their children at home and devote themselves to work 8
hours a day. So they take 2 or 3 hours a day to work as prostitutes. The
mode of operation is to loiter in public places. These are the instances
where they are subjected to harassment by the police, suppressed and
considered as slaves. What is poignant about this is the exploitation of
these poor women by arresting them while men are left alone although they
clearly violate the Vagrancy Ordinance in other ways. This is what I speak
against. I do not specifically request legalisation of prostitution and do not
promote it as a profession. However, a set of conditions should be brought
in, which has a legal structure to protect their being, paying attention to the
miserable, insecure circumstances these women face.

"Should sex workers be given legal recognition or should it continue to be


as it is? What are the real reasons behind the demanding of legal rights for
sex work? Are there other ways to deal with the destitute situation of
women in Sri Lanka? "
Mrs. Kumudini Samuel, Coordinator of the Women and Media Collective
(WMC) and editor of Womens Rights Watch about this issue expressed
similar views to Wickramabahu Karunaratne, while suggesting how society
should change its perspectives.
Whatever affect sex work has on society has happened by now, as it
already exists. Us pretending that it doesnt is what brings harm to society
- Mrs. Kumudini Samuel
What we need to realise and accept for a fact is that prostitution happens
abundantly in Sri Lanka. If it is going to be criminalised, it is definitely going
to happen underground. The factor that we overlook is the demand for sex
workers. Although society is ready to blame it on the woman, people fail to
see their impoverishment. So I believe laws should be brought in to
safeguard the woman and ensure their protection in this already existing
business. Therefore legal intervention should focus on protecting women
from sexual violence and harassment.
When Mrs. Samuel was questioned about what effect lawfully permitting
sex work would have on society, she said that it wouldnt have a strong
influence.
Whatever effect sex work has on society has happened by now, as it
already exists. Pretending that it doesnt is what brings harm to society. We
have internalised Victorian mindsets since the time of the English rule
although other countries have overcome them. We need to question
ourselves and stop acting as if people are not sexually active.
The way to deal with sexual crime is to openly discuss about it and probably
include sex education in school curricula. We need to change the attitude of
people and their perception about sexuality, by taking a frank approach and
not by resorting to a moralistic outlook.
Speaking of legal implications, Mrs. Samuel firmly stated that the Vagrancy
Ordinance should be done away with, as it is often misused. She also said
that the Brothel Law should be regulated in a way that both men and
women will be protected.

Dr. Prathibha Mahanamahewa (attorney at law) and human rights activist


spoke of the problems entertainment workers come across, sympathising
with the circumstances they are confronted with.

"Five star hotels are never examined in search of sex workers,


however, the woman who helplessly stands on the street is taken
into custody - Dr. Prathibha Mahanamahewa"
Five star hotels are never examined in search of sex workers, however, the
woman who helplessly stands on the street is taken into custody - Dr.
Prathibha Mahanamahewa
First I would like to revise the term used to define these particular people. I
would call them entertainment workers instead of sex workers. Earlier they
were referred to as prostitutes, then sex slaves or sex workers, however, in
a modern context; the terminology that I prefer to use with respect to their
occupation is entertainment workers. I believe they should be given rights
as any other worker, as there is no law that exists in Sri Lanka which
criminalizes this. However, police arrest women and subject them to
humiliation at their own will, which I think should necessarily be spoken
against. Five star hotels are never examined in search of sex workers,
however, the woman who helplessly stands on the street is taken into
custody. I have surveyed the causes for entertainment workers to emerge in
our country and as it is obvious, most of them step into the business due to
poverty. Most street entertainers have no birth certificate or ID and there
are also women who have returned from serving in Middle-East countries
who are not issued Grama Niladhari certificates. The government has to
take responsibility of these women and give them their rights by
recognising their predicament.
Sri Lankan society is very conservative, specially the older generations.
Although sex-related activities are happening often, we do not openly
discuss them. I think social awareness and campaigning must be conducted
alongside legalising and ensuring the rights of sex workers.
The taboo subject of sex workers is without doubt a social issue in Sri
Lanka. This decade-old reality has now begun to rear up. Do they actually
corrupt society? Or is it because society is corrupt that they exist?

Posted by Thavam