Combating Commercial Sexual Exploitation By Providing Economic Alternative

Akhil Choudhary 06-Nov-2014

Victims of Commercial Sexual Exploitation (CSE) have always remained victim without voices as their very basic rights get infringed upon every day in their line of work. Retrospective reflection of existing channels to support and empower teenage girls, young women with alternative sources of livelihood, to eventually quit sex work is falling short. However Swift Wash, an initiative by ARZ has demonstrated that the problem of CSE has existed in our society not because there is no solution to the complex problem, but due to lack of proper understanding, attention, approach and partnership.

Human trafficking for commercial sexual exploitation has been prevailing from centuries. The victims from this stigmatised group have always been at the receiving end from society.The aftermath of these ‘victims of circumstances’ ‘rescue’ from trafficking has always been challenging and demanding. Even after great deal of research attention has been devoted to the cause and effect of sex trafficking, the effectiveness of the legal and institutional instruments aimed at curtailing the scourge as well as rehabilitation is still falling short and pervious.

Among this uncertain space; ARZ, a NGO working in Goa, INDIA working for years on the issue of combating human trafficking for CSE has moulded new ideologies to bring justified change. Realizing that poverty, especially at household level, puts teenage girls and young women into a state of vulnerability that makes it easy for them to get recruited, knowingly or through trickery, into exploitative commercial sex trade. They felt the need for a public – private partnership, whereby the resources and expertise of different organization/s in this endeavour comes together to address the economic rehabilitation of the members of CSE market.

Thus, Started the Swift Wash experiment in 2006 aligning answers to broad questions like what are the characteristics of the pathways to the sex workers social rehabilitation programmes? How the sex workers should be managed in these rehabilitation centres? Which approaches is most effective? With a sense of “justness and objectivity” and open mind.

Mansi, 31 when asked if she will be a taker of the institutional-mooted rehabilitation scheme, shot back “Why not? If the new job can support me and my family, I am willing to give this up… right now, who doesn’t want to be dignified part of society rather than discarded section! All I work for is to keep my children away from this slur. Provided with right opportunity and parity in acceptance, I can work hard to earn a living. This undercurrent from CSW reveals that unbiased acceptance, dignity and reasonable amount of income are the essentials to hopefully bring them out of their dingy rooms of red light areas.

This expression of doubt is founded on the circumstances surrounding the pathway to rehabilitation centres, the ability of the centres to provide an equitable economic empowerment that the sex workers were used to in the practice of their trade, and most importantly, the sincerity of purpose inherent in the rehabilitation initiatives of the government and non-government agencies. Given a choice of alternative professions, they will definitely quit their present one.In this very regardwe have a shining example of institution like ARZ who have taken up this challenge heads on and redefined the very scepticism, context and factors that promoted recruitment of young girls into commercial sex. 

Swift Wash, a mechanized laundry unit, is brain child of Arz, a non-institutional economic rehabilitation unit providing rehabilitation to victims of CSE, perpetrators of CSE and those vulnerable to be a victim or perpetrator. Having insights of the swift wash venture opens up floor detain what it takes to implement successful interventions for economic rehabilitation of teenage girls and young women entrapped in commercial sex industry.

The problem with most of rehabilitation programs is that “They offer women an alternative job in another part of the informal economy where they are treated as incompatible and external to social envelope. The barbs from inside and outside hits so hard in this transformative stage that; though willing but they find it much easier to get back in sex trade. This unpredictability of abuse has been countered with sessions, arranged activities for their children and personal counselling by ARZ.With swift wash they provided rehabilitated individuals a chanceto be placed in a proper job instead of asking them to search for a job after training. Initiating with “Public Private” partnership module (laundry business), Arz first educated itself about the laundry business (machinery, operation, clients, chemicals, accounting, etc.). Also hotel Taj was approached for the training in the management of the business. Taj conducted series of training programme and provided skills to the beneficiaries and Arz staff in management of the business.

Backed with a good understanding of the members of CSE (behaviour, services required, etc.) and a rapport with the target population, mobilizing them with assistance in adjusting to a new environment and occupation was not very challenging. As the laundry required business for the unit, Arz contacted hotels, hospitals and pharmaceuticals who welcome the initiative and proactively came forward and provided laundry orders to the unit.

Due to the physical, mental, psychological and emotional health implications of trafficking, the rehabilitation process is believed to be a time of physical recovery, and psychological and social reorientation. Along with financial support, to facilitate easy amalgamation within society; conscious efforts to change a mind-set or to influence and redirect negative behavioural patterns to become positive; a constant care, mentoring and counselling is also facilitated.

As it is said, simplicity in process pays in righteous means. Swift Wash has managed to achieve a unique non-residential economic rehabilitation model due to a well-coordinated multi-pronged strategy and a multi sectorial response which involves multi stakeholders (government, judiciary, NGO’s, funding organization, corporate houses and the civil society). The partnership is a fundamental requisite for ensuring the holistic rehabilitation of the members of CSE.Awaiting more maturity, ARZ intend to give reigns of swift wash management responsibilities with the staff, once victims of unkind world prepared to poise over challenges.

It has also proved that programs in this format of social enterprises could not only facilitated successful rescue efforts from this kind of bondage or servitude, but can also redefine all odds stacked up against the commercial sex workers in their struggles to find alternative economic occupations. The result of all this is that, today Swift Wash is a professionally run 24 hour and 365 days laundry service which employs 35 persons working in 2 shifts. The beneficiaries include victims as well as intermediaries. It currently provides a minimum salary of Rs. 5500 to a fresher (for 8 hrs. of work). The beneficiaries of Swift Wash also receive benefits such as crèche, bus service, ESI, and EPF.

In its years of operations hundreds havebeen benefited from the programme (male members and those who are vulnerable are placed by the Swift Wash with its patrons after working on their behaviour). However scaling both in terms of geography and other ventures (apart laundry) is both complex and delicate. In words of ARZ team “The stigma and sensitivities with the group they work needs sincere and wholehearted efforts”, if you seek business out of it then you are on wrong foot. Though they are open to venture with likeminded organizations may be different than laundry, but as they say “Philanthropy is not what we aspire for, this is not what the CSE victims has been mentored here; all they aspire is to stand chaste with the society; If one has this morality and composure, they are more than welcome.

Though words remain words; the success of this venture is embedded within the efforts by ARZ team. The journey of swift wash can equip us with best practices, lessons, challenges and opportunities to support evidence based advocacy to combat exploitative sex trade. It is a torch bearer to future actions (scale up or replication) by anyone who desires to rescue teenage girls and young women from commercial sex industry.

About The Author


Akhil Choudhary

A Development Professional working as a trade officer for facilitation of Indo-Israel trade in clean-tech sector. Carrying a research oriented...


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