AIDS spreading fast among sex workers

Published: January 18, 2012

The city holds the unenviable statistic of housing the largest number of female sex workers in the country, which stands at 25,399 and is closely followed by Lahore that has a total of 23,766, says a national survey conducted by the Canada-Pakistan HIV/AIDS Surveillance Project.

At the same time, 19,115 male sex workers, who provide services to male clients, live in Pakistan. They are spread over 3,706 spots in 14 cities of the country.

Experts associated with HIV/AIDS control in Pakistan are alarmed at the statistics, which indicate a growing number of male sex workers along with an increased prevalence of HIV/AIDS in female sexual workers.

According to the survey, there are some 89,178 female sex workers in 14 cities. Meanwhile, based on calculations, there are 7.2 female sex workers for every 1,000 men.

The survey also found that over 23,000 transvestite sex workers were offering services in 14 cities of the country. In addition to them, the mapped study also said that approximately 3,594 gurus, mentors of these sex workers, were operating in these cities.

There are some 1.9 transvestites for every 1,000 men. In Sukkur and Multan, the ratio is higher as for every 1,000 adult males in these two cities, as there are 6.9 and 3.4 transvestites, respectively. Larkana, Mirpurkhas and Quetta have about three such sex workers for every 1,000 men.

The surveyors calculated 1.6 male sex workers for every 1,000 men living in the mapped cities, while their numbers in Punjab’s cities were significantly lower. Only Faisalabad and Sargodha showed more than one male sex worker for every 1,000 men. Sindh and KPK (Khyber Pakhtunkhawa) also showed lower numbers with 1.9 and 1.7 such workers for every 1,000 men, respectively.

The study identified that some female workers operated their business from home, some from Kothikhanas, others from brothels or streets while some would use cell phones to contact their clients. A middleman mostly mediates between the sex worker and the client.

The survey showed that each middleman directly controlled an average of 5.2 female workers.

Maps show that the street-based spots were located in prime commercial areas, Kothikhanas in middle-income residential settings, while home-based workers mainly operated in lower socio-economic areas.

Transvestite sex workers Two major types of transvestites are home-based and Dera-based. Although every transvestite is associated with a guru and a Dera, nearly 6,885 of them were found living in homes (often with families) and only visited Deras to socialise with community members or find work.

A much larger number of them — 16,433 — were living in Deras. Their community is strongly linked in most cities and each guru knows several others. This is especially likely in Punjab’s cities. In Lahore, for example, one guru knew 20 others within the city and was in contact with 34 Deras.

Male sex workers

The survey found that male sex workers were quite thinly distributed in all the cities. These spots, often referred to as “pick-up points’ or ‘cruising sites’, are specific locations where these sex workers solicit clients. Some 5.2 male sex workers were found operating at each point.

Deputy Director Sindh Aids Control Programme (SICP) Syed Qamar Abbass Shah, while commenting on the findings of the survey, said the prevalence of HIV/AIDS among female sex workers was an alarming sign.

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