There are a whopping 6,88,751 "registered" sex workers in the country and it’s not mandatory for them to have a health certificate on sexually transmitted diseases. Put together, these two pieces of information — revealed by the government in an RTI reply — should send the alarm bells ringing as unprotected paid sex is the main driver of the HIV epidemic in India.
The reply by the ministry of health and family welfare also reveals that the southern states have the largest number of sex workers, at least on government records. Andhra Pradesh leads the list with more than one lakh registered female sex workers while Karnataka has 79,000. These two states are followed by Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and West Bengal.
Interesting, there is not a single sex worker as per government records in Dadra and Nagar Haveli as well as Daman and Diu. Jammu and Kashmir has the least number of registered sex workers — 259.
Among the metros, Delhi leads the list. Though the capital has only one known red light area, GB Road, there are 37,900 sex workers — more than those in India’s financial capital, Mumbai.
Experts say a large number of sex workers in the country go undetected in government records. Naco estimates the total number of sex workers in India to be 12.63 lakh.
The ministry in its reply says that the calculation of the total number is based on information from state AIDS Control Societies. "The numbers are based on listings done under targeted interventions in the states and may change as per new registrations," the reply says.
Ved Pal, a resident of Delhi, who had filed the RTI, said that though he had sought information on what steps government was taking to rehabilitate the sex workers and to bring them back to the mainstream, he did not get a satisfactory reply. "The government must find a way to identify women who have entered this profession for financial compulsions and they must be rehabilitated," Pal said.
Meanwhile, the annual report (2009-10) of the health ministry’s Aids control department states that India has the third largest number of people living with HIV/AIDS — 22.7 lakh, as per the provisional HIV estimates of 2008-09.
The report says though sex workers are 0.5% of adult female population, they account for 7% of HIV-infected women. "Sex work continues to act as the most important source of HIV infections in India due to the large size of clients that get infected from sex workers… Men who buy sex are the single most powerful driving force in India’s HIV epidemics and constitute the largest infected population group in the country," the report adds.