She is eight, wants to study, but has ‘customers’ to please

By Sreya Basu, IANS,

Kolkata : She is eight years old, loves to care for people and animals, wants to be a doctor when she grows up and is learning to read and write in her free time – that is, till her “customers” arrive.

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As this IANS correspondent entered a room at the infamous red light area of Kalighat in south Kolkata, she was greeted by a smiling child who offered a glass of cold water and two pieces of ‘sandesh’ (sweets).

“Please sit… it’s 10.15 a.m… no one will disturb us at least till 1 p.m. But after that my customers may land up,” said Seema Sen (name changed).

If you are wondering, who Sen is and who are the ‘customers’ she is talking about, you might be shocked to know this girl is a victim of child prostitution.

She does not have a birth certificate, and has never been to school. But her mother Sonali – herself a sex worker – confirms Seema’s age. “She has been in this trade for three years. She was five years when she joined.”

“One day I was playing in front of my mother’s room, when one of her customers liked me… that was my first day in the profession,” the girl recalled.

“I don’t remember what was done to me… mother says I fainted and was unwell for days. But she also said that’s what our profession is like and I have to become strong like her.”

Seema said she does not want to continue in this profession.

“My mother forces me to continue because of lack of alternatives at present… I have a brother too to look after. But she always encourages me to look for better alternatives in future so that I can move out.

“I don’t want to remain a sex worker… dress up like a clown day and night and let people come and hurt you. The world here is very dirty… I want to get out of here soon,” Seema confided to IANS.

“I want to go to school and study. Besides, I love taking care of people and animals. In fact, I attend to anyone who falls ill in our locality.”

“My aim in life is to become a good doctor. I know I will need a lot of money to pursue my dreams.

“And hence, during my spare hours, I work as a florist in this area. My cousin is a wholesaler of flowers like jasmine, chameli, mogra, bela and tuberose. With my mother’s help, I stock up flowers in my room and sell them to customers and sex workers at cheaper rates.

“My mother has even opened a joint bank account with me, where I deposit a major part of my earnings. As soon as I have enough money, I wish to go to a boarding school in the hills.

“After that life will be totally different….”

According to Indrani Sinha, founder-director of Sanlap – an NGO working for the development of sex workers in the Kalighat area, there are nearly 40,000 sex workers in Kolkata, of whom almost 10 percent are children.

However, the number of children in prostitution business is decreasing in Kolkata, unlike in Delhi and Mumbai, due to the joint efforts of the Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee (DMSC) an organisation of sex workers in Kolkata working for their own welfare and social recognition, and the NGOs.

“No new child has entered the trade since 2007,” Sinha said.

According to the data available with the organisation, 40 percent of India’s sex workers are children who contribute over Rs.15,000 crore (Rs.150 billion) per year to the annual prostitution business worth Rs.55,000 crore (Rs.550 billion).

Commenting on Monica’s ambition to become a doctor, Sinha said: “We will be more than happy to help her out. But we can’t forcibly take custody of a minor like that, especially when she herself has no grudges against her mother.”

Asked if all girls in the area dream like Monica, Sinha said: “I don’t think so… they don’t dream big like Monica, but surely they wish for a better life.”

(Sreya Basu can be contacted at [email protected])