Activists demand legalization of prostitution and protection for women
by Melani Manel Perera
Women abandoned by their husbands are forced into prostitution to support children. Leading activist: "Everyone criticizes us and exploits us, but nobody helps us." According to new norm against vagrancy, the police can arrest the women alone at bus stops. "But the police are the first ones to use our services."

Colombo (AsiaNews) – Leading activists are urging President Maithripala Sirisena to legalize prostitution, so as to ensure common rights for all workers and protection for those who decide to enter the profession. B. Maheswari (see photo), co-chair of the Center for Sex Workers' Rights (CSWR), told AsiaNews: "Those who criticize women who choose to prostitute themselves do not look beyond the surface, to the reason that pushed them to do this. They are often forced to it by their family status. But we are all human and we must enjoy the same rights. "

The activist group reports that prostitution is illegal in the country, but is widespread on the streets and in private homes. "There are many women working in the sex trade – she says - Many argue that the market depends on the high demand, but they overlook the fact that women are often forced into prostitution ".

Maheswari is a victim of this condition: "I'm in this situation because of my husband. If he had not abandoned me and my children, I would never have chosen this work. But now I have to feed my children and send them to school. People who criticize us, don’t  do anything to help us put food on the table. The police and government do nothing to improve our situation. They all exploit us and criticize us, but nobody helps us".

The status of women is exacerbated by the fact that the police can stop them on the streets and then hold them for one and a half months in prison and force them to pay a fine of 100 Sri Lankan rupees [about 0.60 euro - ed] . The co-chairman of CSWR however reveals to AsiaNews: "What nobody knows is that the police come to us the day before they arrest us and pay us for our services. But then come back the next day and take us to jail. "

When arrested, the prostitutes are wracked by worry for their children, who remain alone. "While we are locked up in prison, there is no one to take care of them. This is why we are pleading with the President to legalize our profession".

Senaka Perera, CSWR lawyer, reports that according to norm against vagrancy, police can stop any woman found near the bus [hangout for prostitutes], but the same does not happen with men. The lawyer also states that "most of the workers do not choose the profession voluntarily and the attitude of the police is really inhuman." The lawyer concludes, "we have no intention of promoting prostitution, but only protecting workers. Their rights are the same as those of all human beings. "