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To counter Police Harassment, Uganda’s Sex Workers feel Phone is vital for their safety

The Minister of State for Ethics and Integrity, Simon Lokodo, a former Catholic priest, has vowed to crack down on both sex workers and their clients

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FILE - Women carry baskets of banana as they walk past a military personnel patrolling in Uganda's capital Kampala, February 19, 2016 Source: Reuters
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When Fatia, 25, leaves her home to sell sex in the grungy hotels and hastily parked cars of the Ugandan capital, Kampala, she keeps her hand clenched around her phone.

After three years, her biggest fear is not violent clients or exposure to HIV, but harassment by Kampala’s police.

“The police start charging you. They say it (prostitution) is not allowed in the country,” Fatia, who declined to give her full name, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a phone interview.

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“Some policemen even use you (for sex). They don’t pay you and then still they take you to the station.”

If arrested for prostitution, Fatia knows what to do. Call the emergency number for Lady Mermaid’s Bureau (LMB) – a sex workers’ advocacy organization – and beep once.

A representative from the bureau soon arrives at the station to gently remind the police that harassment or bribery of any citizen, even a sex worker, is illegal.

If that fails, she may invoke the name of one of Fatia’s influential clients to scare the police into releasing her.

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Gentle persuasion generally works.

Ugandan police spokesman Andrew Felix Kaweesi denied systemic police harassment. However, he said instances of misconduct by individual officers was possible.

“The police have no policy of harassing the prostitutes on the streets,” Kaweesi said.

“Those who are victims should report to our professional standards unit … Absolutely nobody will punish them. We will listen to their complaints and follow it up.”

VULNERABLE

In Uganda, sex work is illegal and highly stigmatized, making women like Fatia vulnerable to unlawful arrest, rape, bribery, beating and murder, rights groups say.

The Indigo Trust, a UK-based foundation under The Sainsbury Family Charitable Trusts, gave Lady Mermaid’s Bureau a grant in 2014 to help Ugandan sex workers fight abuse using technology.

It has provided around 1,000 sex workers across Uganda with information-loaded digital memory cards so they can use their phones to learn how to protect themselves against violence, HIV/AIDS and unwanted pregnancies.

The material is available in multiple languages, and in written and video format, to maximize the number of women who can access it.

“They read them, follow them and do their work safely,” said Oliver Musoke, executive director of Lady Mermaid’s Bureau and a former sex worker.

The cards make it easier to reach larger numbers of women than through face-to-face counseling.

“Some women are not open (to meeting us),” said Musoke, who founded the organization in 2002 to improve sex workers’ access to medical, psychological and legal services and to educate them about sexual health and the law.

“They can read and take the information for themselves.”

Harassment

The criminalization of sex work in the conservative East African nation makes it difficult for those living on its margins to learn about their rights.

Fatia began selling sex hoping to save her earnings for a year and go into business, selling baby clothes.

But she continues to work the streets because she cannot earn enough to escape. Most days she gets one or two clients; some days, none.

“When you use protection, they give you very little money,” she said. “It’s not a good job at all.”

Anyone who engages in prostitution is liable to seven years in jail, according to Uganda’s 1950 Penal Code.

The Minister of State for Ethics and Integrity, Simon Lokodo, a former Catholic priest, has vowed to crack down on both sex workers and their clients.

But it is largely poor women who are targeted.

“Harassment occurs any time because sex work is illegal,” said Daisy Nakato Namakula, a former sex worker who heads the Women’s Organization Network for Human Rights Advocacy (WONETHA), which promotes sex workers’ rights.

WONETHA has received 85 reports of sex workers being arrested and harassed by the police since January, but says many more cases go undocumented.

Officers sometimes threaten to publish sex workers’ faces in the media and refuse to allow those with HIV/AIDS who are arrested to be brought their medication, Namakula said.

Ugandan police spokesman Kaweesi denied these allegations.

“(All) suspects have full rights of access to their relatives, access to medical attention, access to meals,” he said.

Musoke of Lady Mermaid’s Bureau, which has worked with more than 12,000 sex workers across Uganda, believes she is slowly changing Ugandans’ attitudes.

One policeman recently asked for a memory card to learn more about the situation of sex workers in the community, LMB reported.

“I have passed through that life,” Musoke said.

“I know their problems… That’s why I decided to create (Lady Mermaid’s Bureau), to let them know that they are also human.” (VOA)

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8 Largest Red Light Areas In India Where Only Prostitution Is Sustainability

According to a report, there is almost 10 million sex worker in India.

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The place Sonagachi holds the title of Asia’s largest red light area which is located in Kolkata. Wikimedia Commons
The place Sonagachi holds the title of Asia’s largest red light area which is located in Kolkata. Wikimedia Commons

The act of prostitution is going on since ages and it’s still a surviving occupation for many. For lots of girls, it’s a harsh reality but there is very little that they can do about it. Many of the girls are forced into prostitution and some have to choose it because they have no other place to go. Although, prostitution is illegal in India but it is certainly prevalent in our society.

The Land of Kama Sutra
Due to India’s legacy in sex and prostitution, there are some of the largest and infamous red light areas where prostitution is a way of living. Such a place automatically becomes a hot spot for many other criminal activities too. According to a report, there is almost 10 million sex worker in India. The prime clientele of prostitutes includes migrant workers or people who are staying away from their home.

The red light areas in India are the only means of keeping the body and soul together for many of the sex workers. Wikimedia Commons
The red light areas in India are the only means of keeping the body and soul together for many of the sex workers. Wikimedia Commons

There are many cases where a girl turns into prostitution just for the sake of raising some money for their respective families. Some girls are lured into good jobs in big cities and then they are been sold off to pimps and brokers at different brothels. The news of abduction of girls are very common in India and then no one knows whereabouts of them. In very few cases, the police are able to locate the victim.

Even in some cases, parents sell their babies to earn some quick bucks for a very paltry sum. The red light areas in India are the only means of keeping the body and soul together for many of the sex workers.

Take a look at the list of such red light areas situated in India:

Sonagachi, Kolkata
The place Sonagachi holds the title of Asia’s largest red light area which is located in Kolkata. Sonagachi is a mysterious place in itself. As per a survey, this place is home to almost 11,000 sex workers. The harsh reality of Sonagachi red light area is very hard to swallow. The Oscar-winning documentary, Born into Brothels, has brought out the very reality of this place.

Kamathipura, Mumbai
Kamathipura stands second, only after Sonagachi in terms of the number of sex workers working at a place. It is also the oldest red light area of Mumbai. The dilapidated condition of this place will send shivers to anyone visiting here for the very first. The place also houses a beedi factory in its surrounding been owned by women. The place is quite famous due to its visitors like Haji Mastan and Dawood Ibrahim.

There the word Kamathis means workers and hence the place got its first name. Wikimedia Commons
There the word Kamathis means workers and hence the place got its first name. Wikimedia Commons

Kamthipura is also known by the name of Grant Road’s Red light Area. But initially, Kamthipura was known as Lal Bazaar because of its workers. There the word Kamathis means workers and hence the place got its first name. The number of sex workers has reduced to only a few thousand as compared to when it was started.

Budhwar Peth, Pune
Budhwar Peth shortly follows the Sonagachi and Kamathipura in the prostitution business. There are expected five thousand of sex workers working in the shabby lanes of Budhwar Peth.Other than prostitution, the place is also known for being a hub for electronic goods and books.

The shady lights of this red light area make it more difficult to survive and lack of law enforcement agencies adds more agony to it.

G.B. Road, Delhi
Almost every person who has ever visited Delhi must have come across the name of G.B. Road. The place is Delhi’s largest red light area and is quite famous for the hundreds of brothels along the streets.

The place also houses many vehicle parts, wholesale dealers. So, anyone who knows about this place is not necessarily related to prostitution.

Chaturbhujsthan, Muzaffarpur
Chaturbhujsthan is a red light area in Muzaffarpur and interestingly, this place is located right next to an old temple. People believe that this setup has been in continuation since ages and thus it makes sense as to why prostitution is still going strong.

The shady lights of the red light areas make it more difficult to survive and lack of law enforcement agencies adds more agony to it. Wikimedia Commons
The shady lights of the red light areas make it more difficult to survive and lack of law enforcement agencies adds more agony to it. Wikimedia Commons

Itwari, Nagpur
Itwari is a quite popular place among the sex workers and the criminals in Nagpur. In most of the red light areas, criminal activities and prostitution go side by side and this place is no different. The place is also known by the name Ganga Jamuna.

Shivdaspur, Varanasi
This red light area is intact since ancient times and this place is more like a village rather than a locality. But in the past couple of years, this place is seen losing its sheen due to lack of the number of sex workers. The village is home to many cheap brothels been run by the locals.

Baina, Goa
Goa being a holiday destination is supposed to cater the prostitution business and getting customers over here is not that difficult. Baina is a well-known red light area in Goa. Here, pimps bring the customer from bus stands, railway stations and markets, after that the deal is been made.

Although in 2004, the government raided all the properties of Baina beach and tried to root out the prostitution business but still it’s prevalent.