This exploratory research focused on the socio cultural background of heroin using female sex workers in the City of Colombo to discuss their main routes to sexual and heroin using behaviors. These groups of vulnerable females who tend to be a hidden population are not included in the general population survey. They are socially excluded women involved in sex work and using heroin. This study examined the links between heroin use and sex work among females and about the environment in which heroin use and sex work is mutually reinforced.
In Sri Lankan society, women’s role is undergoing significant transformation due to various social and economic reasons, especially after the 1977 liberalization process. Though the numbers remain hidden, heroin using female population is increasing and getting more and more accepted among women in Sri Lanka who play a leading role in drug related offenders (Senanayake, 2000).
The number of heroin using females in commercial sex work is high in the low income community in the Colombo City. These women are neglected and isolated from the family and society. Today the numbers of sex workers are increasing. In 1994, the number of estimated commercial sex workers was 14,433. It has increased up to 37,000 to 45,000 by the year 2015 (Ceylon Today, 2015). There were few women engaged in heroin use and commercial sex work in the past but the number has increased in the present situation due to various socio-cultural aspects. And also they tend to be more vulnerable to sex work for earning money for their heroin use (Senanayake, 2005).
Although there is much focus on what sex workers do, very little attention is paid as to how they have come into the profession and why they continue to stay there. As they are a vulnerable group of people who live in a violent culture, these females are at great risk of psychological and physiological health related problems. Policy planning and new strategies should be implemented in the prevention of heroin use and sex work among females in Sri Lanka.
These are the research objectives in this study –
To identify patterns and extent of the female heroin use in commercial sex work in the city of Colombo
To study the routes to heroin use and routes to commercial sex work.
To study the relationships between heroin use and sex work.
• What is the Socio- cultural background of Heroin using female Sex workers in The City of Colombo?
This is a descriptive study of heroin using female sex workers in the City of Colombo. It was a non-probability sample of 30 heroin using female sex workers. The selected sample of participant was experiencing both heroin use and sex work. The respondent driven sampling method was used to discover the hidden population. This started from the direct interviewing from the inmates of “Seth Sevana” Rehabilitation centre and the members of “Abimani Kantha” Organization for female commercial sex workers. According to the information collected, 100% of them were narcotic offenders who live in the urban community of the Colombo City area. Data collected by interviews, focus group discussion and observations. In-depth interviews had been done with eliciting consents from the participants within the confidential setup while respecting equal rights.
This study was conducted in the City of Colombo among heroin using female sex workers. The focus of this study was to describe their socio-cultural background, childhood development, routes to heroin use, routes to sex work and pattern of heroin use. It has also been compared with the pattern of commercial sex work and the link between these two activities. Women involved in heroin use and sex work have been directly influenced by their socialization process which includes sociological factors connected to their individual contributions. Lack of parental protection, love and care during the childhood causes, sexual and physical abuses and the family conflict have made them neglect other forms of maltreatments.
When I consider about these females and their childhood causes, it has made severe impact on their delinquent and anti-social behaviors. The primary factors identified within the family include conflicts that have influenced their personal and school live. Especial focus should be paid on childhood to adolescence. Most of the women in sex work and heroin addiction have grown up in a dysfunctional family where they were neglected, rejected, abused physically, verbally and sexually during their childhood. At the end they have ended up with anti-social behavior.
Four contributing factors identified as an outcome of this study,
Firstly; broken families and divorces contribute to this situation and more young girls are living in single parent families or in a households without the presence of parents.
Secondly; due to urban poverty, families with poor economic status have committed young females with limited opportunities in educational and developmental activities.
Thirdly, under the growing economic pressure, parents have to spend more time with their work and less time on supporting and caring for their children.
Lastly, within the fast changing society young females are more initiating to new ideas and their parents are more likely to resist these ideas and behavioral changes in the next generation. These new emerging issues in urban societies are creating new problems that create new challenges in urban family sectors.
Considering these four factors we can say that heroin using female sex workers were the product of the new society and it is continuing as an emerging social issue in Sri Lankan society.
This study identified that 76% of them experienced sex on or before the age of 18 and the mean age of them were 16 years. So it is very important to look forward with the policy makers to focus more on preventing child abuse and finding a better process to look after children who are away from their families.
Early school drop outs are identified as one of the most important factors which can be addressed through the school setup. 93% of them dropped out of school before sitting the GCE O/L examination. And most of them were from single parent families. School counseling system should be strengthened with qualified counselors and policy makers should focus on this situation with planning.
Findings of this study suggest that the overall aim, intervention and target of preventing child abuse and child prostitution would help to reduce and prevent young girls getting into heroin use and sex work.
Special attention should be paid to children from broken family setups who are growing up under the single parents or without the presence of a parent and reduce their access to outdoor environments where heroin use and sex work take place.
There should be a better strategy planning on reducing physical, emotional and sexual harm during the childhood development among the younger generation and increase their personnel, emotional and sexual safety within the family, in school and in society.
Action should be taken to prevent the new generation of females getting into sex work and heroin use and to develop better legal enforcement and related services with easy access for information and guidance.
Creating better job opportunities and vocational training based on skill assessment for school drop outs within the community intervention under the poverty alleviation programs.
There should be a proper method of drawing heroin using female sex workers into treatments and rehabilitation and find out the effects of various types of treatments and after care approaches currently used in Sri Lankan setup. Findings of this report will be helpful in planning future harm reduction strategies among heroin using female sex workers in the nation.
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Thilakarathna, Kusumanjalee and Adittiya, Shailandree W, (2015) I’m a sex worker. The Nations, 15th July. Retrieved December 15, 2015. http://nation.lk/online/2015/07/25/i-am-a-sex-worker.html
- Citation: Abeysekera, L. S (2016) Socio-cultural study of heroin using female sex workers
- Creative Commons: Attribution-ShareAlike CC BY-SA
- Creator: Abeysekera S. L
- Language: English
- Publisher: 4th world women's conference 2018
- Year: 2019-01-28
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