IGNOU launches educational programme for sex workers in Kolkata

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Kolkata, Mar 10 : The Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) has set a benchmark of sorts by pioneering a special educational programme for sex workers and their children in Sonagachi area of Kolkata.

Sonagachi, exposed to drunken men, street brawls and heroin-shooting pimps, is one of Asia's biggest red light districts with 6,000 sex workers.

An initiative by the University, the course module is aimed at uplifting the status of these women and their children.

Around 30 sex workers and their children are already a part of this educational programme.

"This is a programme for sex workers and their children by IGNOU. This would help them to shift to other trades as well. We want to uplift them from their present status by means of education," said Ashok Haldar, a teacher.

Sex workers are a marginalized lot in the country and have few rights. They are abused by their customers and exploited by the police.

This programme has brought a ray of hope to their lives as they feel it would enable them to lead a better life in future and help their children to come out of the profession socially looked down upon.

"IGNOU has given me this wonderful opportunity. This would enable us to move forward in our lives. Our children will get chance to move outside this world and take up some other profession away from all this," said Soma Sen, a sex worker.

The educational programme will also enable the children of these sex workers to get educated and move out of the grimy and dark world of sex trade to explore better avenues.

Sonagachi's estimated 12,000 children lead a life which remains a cycle of poverty and prostitution that is difficult to break.

Many of these children of prostitutes are employed in small factories, shops and cheap eateries where they scrub dishes and mop floors for as little as 20 rupees a day. But with the launching of this programme, they are happy as it fills them with a hope for a new future.

"We could not attend a normal school as the children there teased us and looked down upon us because of our mother's profession. But now we have got a chance to pursue our education and move ahead in life," said Govind Vishwas, the son of a sex worker.

A few schools are already functioning in Sonagachi which teach the children rudimentary English, vocational crafts and the Bengali language. But barely 700 children attend these classes.

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