Child Prostitution in India
"Child prostitution is the ultimate denial of the rights of the child."
(Dr Jon E Rhode, UNICEF representative in India).
India's 944 580 000 inhabitants live in an area of 3 287 590 km², with an expectation that the
population will reach 1 billion in May. Almost a quarter of this total are under 18 years of age.
25% of the population live in urban areas and this is estimated to be growing annually at just
over 1%. Over population and lack of education in nutrition and health contribute to the deaths
of around 11 000 children each day. In 1951, 164 million Indians were living in poverty
compared to 312 million in 1993-94.
There are estimated to be over 900 000 sex workers in India. 30% are believed to be children.
Recent reports estimate that the number of children involved in prostitution is increasing at 8
to10% per annum.
About 15% of the prostitutes in Mumbai (Bombay), Delhi, Madras, Calcutta, Hyderabad and
Bangalore are children. It is estimated that 30%of the prostitutes in these six cities are under 20
years of age. Nearly half of them became commercial sex workers when they were minors.
Conservative estimates state that around 300 000 children in India are suffering commercial
sexual abuse, which includes working in pornography.
In one study of 456 sex workers in Mumbai who had been 'rescued' by police in February 1996, a
fifth were under 18 years and two-thirds were under 20. The main obstacle in the cracking down
on child prostitution for the police is the issue of rehabilitation and where to place and reintegrate
all the children that they rescue.
The problem of child prostitution in India is more complicated than in other Third World
countries where it is directly related to sex tourism. In India, sexual exploitation of children has
its roots in traditional practices, beliefs and gender discrimination.
According to some research, child prostitution is socially acceptable in some sections of Indian
society through the practice of Devdasi. Young girls are given to the 'gods' and they become a
religious prostitute. There are believed to be around 3 300 devdasis in Belguam area alone.
Devdasi is banned by the Prohibition of Dedication Act of 1982. Parents or guardians dedicating
their girls are liable to five years in jail and a Rs5 000 (approximately £71) fine.
According to a madam in Kamatipura, the average age of girls supplied to the brothels in the last two years has decreased from 14 and 16 years to 10 and 14 years. A girl between 10 and 12 years fetches the highest price.
The fear of HIV/AIDS has increased the demand for virgins and children. Clients mistakenly
believe that children have fewer chances of contracting the disease. Similarly there is the myth
that a man can rid himself of sexually transmitted diseases if he sleeps with a virgin.
Recent Indian Government statistics put the number of people infected with HIV at 3.5million,
indicating approximately three out of every 100 Indians are now infected with the virus which
leads to AIDS. Almost 9 out of 10 of those people are below 45 years old.
About 7,000 sex workers cross over from Nepal into India every year. 66% of the girls are from
families where the annual income is about Rs5 000. They may be sold by their parents, deceived
with promises of marriage or a lucrative job or kidnapped and sold to brothel owners. Between
40 - 50% are believed to be under 18, the age of consent in India, some are as young as 9 or 10
Child sex workers are not confined to big cities. A survey in Bihar revealed that roadside
brothels for truck drivers in the Aurangabad and Sasaram districts offered the services of sex workers aged
between 6 and 18 years.
• Meena was married off at 12. Soon after she was taken to Delhi by her husband, where
she found out that he was a pimp. In the last three years, she has serviced up to six clients
a night. The major part of her earnings goes to pay rent on the little room, the rest goes to
• Rita was sold at 9 years old. She washed and cooked for a madam in Delhi for a few
months until a client wanted a virgin. Two years later, she barely talks to anyone and
spends most of her spare time painting flowers.
• Maya, 10, was taken to Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh by her aunt who was paid Rs 3 000.
When she refused to have sex with a client, she was locked in a room for 2 days,
scared with snakes and beaten unconscious. When she came around she was raped by the
client. Maya has liveds in the red-light area of Mumbai. Her two year old
spends the night in a crèche run by a social service organisation. When he was only a few
months old, she used to drug him and put him under her working cot.
Bombay Teen Challenge Response in
Partnership with JUBILEE ACTION
Jubilee Action supports two houses on the outskirts of Mumbai which providing
permanent homes for orphaned and abandoned children of prostitutes working in its red light
district. The staff has rescued some of the 50 girls, others have been brought by their parents in
order to protect their children from the streets' influence.
Having received little education on the streets, the girls are integrated into the local school
system and extra tuition is available at the home if required.
Asha was left to fend for herself on the streets of Bombay after her mother, a prostitute in the red light district, died. Her father wanted to sell her to a brothel owner but Teen Challenge staff
rescued her. Asha is now studying hard, has passed her typing exam and is happy and safe from
the dangers of the streets.