Girl, Woman, Lover, Mother: Towards a New Understanding of Child Prostitution among Young Devadasis in Rural Karnataka, India

B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS Vancouver, BC Canada.
Social Science & Medicine (Impact Factor: 2.89). 07/2007; 64(12):2379-90. DOI: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2007.02.031
Source: PubMed


The emotive issue of child prostitution is at the heart of international debates over 'trafficking' in women and girls, the "new slave trade", and how these phenomena are linked with globalization, sex tourism, and expanding transnational economies. However, young sex workers, particularly those in the 'third world', are often represented through tropes of victimization, poverty, and "backwards" cultural traditions, constructions that rarely capture the complexity of the girls' experiences and the role that prostitution plays in their lives. Based on ethnographic fieldwork with girls and young women who are part of the Devadasi (servant/slave of the God) system of sex work in India, this paper introduces an alternative example of child prostitution. Demonstrating the ways in which this practice is socially, economically, and culturally embedded in certain regions of rural south India underlies this new perspective. I argue that this embeddedness works to create, inform, and give meaning to these girls as they grow up in this particular context, not to isolate and produce totally different experiences of family, gender identity, and moral character as popular accounts of child prostitution contend. Data pertaining to socialization, 'positive' aspects of being a young sex worker in this context, political economy, HIV/AIDS, and changes in the Devadasi tradition are used to support my position. Taken together, this alternative example presents a more complex understanding of the micro- and macro-forces that impact child prostitution as well as the many factors that affect the girls' ideas of what they do and who they are as people, not just sex workers.

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    • "Individuals who are trafficked/prostituted typically possess marginal financial resources, have limited education or alternate skills, and have few to turn to for support (Thukral, 2005), including their families or communities (Belcher & Herr, 2005; Karandikar & Prospero, 2010). In the United States, many CSE victims are runaways from abusive or neglectful homes (McClanahan et al., 1999; Tyler & Johnson, 2006; Williamson & Folaron, 2003); in other countries, parents may have sold their children to support the family (Orchard, 2007) or economic conditions prompted victims to explore alternate ways to support their family (Manopaiboon et al., 2003). Many prostituted women distance themselves from conventional supports and socialize instead into the sex trade (Williamson & Folaron, 2003). "
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    ABSTRACT: International sex trafficking and domestic prostitution are each forms of commercial sexual exploitation (CSE), and CSE typically encompasses a gauntlet of victimization and violence for its victims. Girls and women subjected to CSE are not only damaged during their involvement in the sex industry, but they typically suffer maltreatment and related factors before they enter into it and again as they endeavor to leave it. In this article we review the common risk factors associated with entry into the sex trade industry, the traumas commonly experienced while in the industry and their psychological sequelae, and the challenges surrounding, and longer-term impact of, endeavoring to exit the industry. We describe the complex conditions present at each of these three stages (pre-entry, post-entry, and peri-/post-exit) and how they result in challenges in treating this population. As rates of commercial sexual exploitation increase both nationally and worldwide, there is an urgent need to identify effective interventions for victims and to address the conditions that foster and support CSE.
    Full-text · Article · Jul 2013 · Psychological Trauma Theory Research Practice and Policy
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    • "Our research offers a contrasting perspective on a group of brothel madams who have been seen to facilitate sex work solely in an exploitative fashion (Orchard, 2007) and brings out their salient participation in the health promotion for sex workers from their community. The supportive and advisory role played by brothel madams around safer sex, their influence on sex worker health seeking practices is tied to reciprocal kinship relations, reveals an opportunity for HIV prevention efforts to fully exploit these positive relationships within intervention design and service delivery to achieve more desirable health outcomes. "
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    ABSTRACT: In this paper we examined the role of Devadasi brothel madams in promoting safe sex practices among sex workers. Qualitative, in-depth interviews were conducted with twelve brothel madams as a follow-up of a larger cohort study that aimed to understand the patterns and determinants of sex workers migration from northern Karnataka to southern Maharashtra, in India. Our research identified that madams were ex-sex workers, who entered into sex work through the traditional Devadasi system and currently manage Devadasi sex workers in their own brothels. The social and kinship relations between the madams and the sex workers form the basis on which these brothels function. Brothel madam's role in the promotion of safe sex and their influence on sex workers in seeking health care is tied to reciprocal kinship relations, reveals an important area of opportunity for HIV prevention efforts to fully exploit these positive aspects of these relationships within intervention design and service delivery to achieve more desirable health outcomes and to effectively address HIV risk and vulnerabilities within the context of brothel environment.
    Full-text · Dataset · Jan 2013
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    • "Details of the Devadasi tradition have been previously described [27] [28]. In brief, Devadasis comprise women who have been ritually dedicated (often by their families) into sex work following menarche [27] [28]. While Devadasis traditionally do not marry, long-term partnerships are common [29]. "
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    ABSTRACT: Objective. To examine the reproductive health practices of female sex workers (FSWs) in the context of an HIV prevention program in Karnataka, India. Methods. Data obtained from a survey of 1,011 FSWs registered with an HIV prevention program. We examined reproductive health indicators, and performed multivariate logistic regression among primiparous FSWs to assess sex work during pregnancy and antenatal HIV testing. Results. Among primiparous FSWs (N = 251), 92.0% continued sex work during pregnancy, and 55.4% received antenatal HIV testing. A longer duration in sex work (AOR 2.7, 95% CI: 1.0–7.5), rural residence (AOR 3.3, 95% CI: 1.2–8.9), and antenatal HIV testing (AOR 6.3, 95% CI: 2.0–20.1) were associated with continued sex work during pregnancy. Older FSWs (age >25 years, AOR 0.12, 95% CI: 0.05–0.33), who delivered at home (AOR 0.14, 95% CI: 0.09–0.34), were least likely to receive antenatal HIV testing. Antenatal HIV testing was associated with awareness of methods to prevent vertical HIV transmission (AOR 3.9, 95% CI: 1.9–14.1). Conclusions. Antenatal HIV testing remains low in the context of ongoing sex work during pregnancy. Existing HIV prevention programs are well positioned to immediately integrate reproductive health care with HIV interventions targeted to FSWs.
    Full-text · Article · Dec 2012 · AIDS research and treatment
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