India: Life after the red light

Sex worker Kolkata sex worker during a 2013 rally in the city

Rehabilitation centres are reportedly being set up in the Indian city of Kolkata to house retired sex workers.

Accommodation will be offered to those who used to ply their trade in the city's red-light district of Sonagachi, said to be Asia's largest, the Press Trust of India news agency reports. Many of the former sex workers "are forced to live a life of penury after falling out of favour with customers because of advanced age", it says.

The project is part of the West Bengal government's plan to rehabilitate disabled, sick and old sex workers living in Kolkata. "The idea is to give them a home to spend the rest of their lives with dignity and comfort," says Sashi Panja, the local parliamentary secretary for women development and social welfare.

Under the programme, the former sex workers will also receive healthcare and food for free or at subsidised rates, the official says.

It is hoped that the new homes will house some 200 sex workers of the 750 identified as in need of help by the local authorities.

Earlier, the Indian newspaper Statesman reported problems with implementing such initiatives. A previous project to house retired sex workers in Kolkata had to be scrapped several months ago following objections from local residents. The Standard was also concerned that officials spoke of plans to house sex workers' daughters, but not sons.

Prostitution remains a major problem for India, where some three million women are believed to be engaged in the sex trade.

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