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Unnoticed sex workers during Corona pandemic

Ashan Afthar

There is no sector that is not affected by the Coronavirus.  One such group is the sex workers.

People below the poverty line are, someway or other cared by wealthy people and voluntary organisations. Many continue their daily life with this assistance.  The condition of the sex workers engaged in a profession not recognized by society is miserable.

The prevailing threat to human life by Corona virus has left them jobless.

Hemal Manchu, Manager, Heart to Heart, an organization working for the LGBTQIA community, shared her feelings.  For many years she is fighting for  the rights of the LGBTQIA community. Through Heart to Heart, to the best of her ability,  she is serving the voiceless community.

“At this juncture, they cannot go out to work. Even if they go, it is difficult to maintain the health guidelines.  The difficulties they undergo owing to this is distressing.  This is a wage-earning labour work.  They managed to live with whatever they earned for the day.  For them, three meals a day is inaccessible now.  Many of them are unwell and unable to get medication” she said.

Many of them who come from distant places to engage in this work stay in lodges. They have to pay monthly rent.  Some families depend on these persons for their living.  The conditions of  these families are still worse. Rather than women, the men who do this work face more difficulties. In places like Dehiwela, Colombo and Moratuwa, the men who do sex work are encountering more challenges. Making use of this opportunity, some people exploit them sexually.  

It seems, no such organisation is helping the sex workers directly. Projects intended for this are not  implemented. Almost everyone of the sex workers has registered themselves with some organisation.  The assistance they receive depends on the type of organistaion.  Some of them who receive this assistance get them in money or dried food stuffs, said Hemal Manchu.

As far as possible assistance is provided by Heart to Heart. They get in touch with donors, explain them about the situation to, and collect funds to provide assistance. But, this organisation does not receive sufficient funds.

“To my knowledge, the government does not pay any attention to these people. There are possibilities of the general public dying due to Coronavirus and starvation. The government has not included the sex workers in the general public category” says Hemal Manchu.

In Europe, sex workers are given special concessions. Following the lockdown in the country, they are given health instructions and are paid allowances.  It is not so in Sri Lanka.  It is appreciable, at least some voluntary organisations have helped them in this difficult situation.

Regarding the problems faced by the LGBTQIA community, it needs to be given attention.  We are implementing as far as possible.  By contacting social activists online, they are providing financial assistance and dry rations to these people.

Corona virus is capable of infecting everyone.  For it race, religion and gender are immaterial. So, it is a common enemy for everyone, and everyone should jointly fight against this.  This challenge should be defeated. Therefore, the sex workers are also duty-bound to stay at home and protect the country like the others.  As the citizens of this country, they should also follow the health guidelines provided by the government.

Sex workers should come forward to use their savings as far as possible. They should ensure that their mouth and nose are clean always.  They should pay more attention towards suspicious people.  Without carrying the blame for spreading Coronavirus, they should safely remain at home and co-operate with the health workers and the government.  For reasons of their economic situation they should not let themselves to be blamed.

Though the effective laws currently in Sri Lanka do not mention anything about sex workers, the sex workers who are presumed to be criminals are forced to suffer many cruelties. Women and transgender people  are subjected to many tortures.  It has to be mentioned that the protection and rights enjoyed by the others are refused to these people.

“The government is implementing many programmes to bring awareness about Corona virus to the people and also help them.  I do not find any shortcomings in this.  This is not the time to do it.  But government also take the initiative to recognize us” requests Hemal Manchu.

The views and opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the Sri Lanka Press Institute.

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