Harasankar Adhikari
Growing Up in an Adverse Milieu
Growing Up in an Adverse Milieu
Education and Occupation of Sex Workers’ Children
Rehabilitation of sex workers, like their trade, is a perennial issue. To ameliorate the
condition of the sex workers, attempts are being made to promote the development of
children of sex workers through education, health care, skill training, and so on. The
aim is to seek rehabilitation for the sex workers’ children in jobs other than prostitution
so that they can slowly integrate with the larger society. But the measures, both at the
level of the female sex workers (FSWs) and their children, have not been successful.
While the recruitment process of FSWs is a complex and multi-dimensional one
preventing easy isolation of factors, its treatment is a challenging task. The measures
aimed at taking out the FSWs’ children out of the ambit of the FSWs’ life are also
equally important, but have not received the adequate attention that it deserves.
Dr. Harasankar Adhikari is Faculty with the Department of Social Work, Visva Bharati,

The objectives of the present study was to delineate the construction of
‘home’ and the practice of parenting and care among the sex workers
and how these affected the process of growing up in sex workers’
community. This study tries to reconstruct the home and family life of
the sex workers, the quality of attentiveness and responsiveness to
their child(ren)’s needs, and so on, as provider and protector. It also
describes the relational pattern that the child builds between
himself/herself and the immediate world and how this affects the
process of taking up the roles as students and as earners among the
FSWs’ children.
Data for this study was collected from the Bowbazar area in Kolkata. A
complete census enumeration of all the households of the area was
made, which revealed a total of 2,200 households of sex workers in the
area. In addition to this, about 800 sex workers come into the area
during day-time as ‘floating’ sex workers. Among the 2,200 resident sex
workers, about 365 FSWs had no biological or adopted child. As for
another 278 FSWs, though they lived in Bowbazar, they visited other
red-light areas for their sex trade or carried out their trade in
accordance to other arrangements made with their clients/customers.

Growing Up in an Adverse Milieu 283
If we leave out the 643 households who had no biological or adopted
children, we arrive at a total figure of 1,557 FSWs. These FSWs have
children of varying ages and practice their trade within the area itself.
Out of these, 200 (or around 12.5 per cent) FSWs — who had biological
or adopted children and lived in the area along with their
children — were purposively selected. They differ in the manner of
recruitment to the trade, caste, the place which they came, status as sex
workers, pattern of clientage and presence of children at various stages
of growth in the family. Out of a total of 325 children, 250 children
between the age group of 6–25 years have been selected purposively to
find out their experience of growing up and the problem of participation
in education.
Both the FSWs and their children were interviewed, and
participatory observation was about various aspects of their life and
trade. Frequent visits were also made to the places where the children
gathered together and played with their peer groups to observe their
mode of interaction. In addition to the above, the role of the community
set-up was studies, case studies of the family set-up were taken and the
experience of growing up of both the boys and girls were sought, in
order to find out the relationship between various factors affecting their
growing up process. Data on the performance of the children over the
last five years was also collected from the local schools.
Out of the eight red-light areas of Kolkata, Bowbazar is one of the oldest
areas. Bowbazar derives its name from its famous association with
Baizis or dancing girls. The term literally means wives who could be
bought in the market. Therefore, commodification of sex started in the
area from a very early period. The Baizis who settled here were brought
from Lucknow and other places of North India. The 1806 Census Report
of Calcutta noted that a brothel in holding number 235 and 236
Bowbazar Street was operated by a member of Prince Dwarakanath
Tagore’s family. It had 43 rooms for the sex workers who came from
different parts of Bengal and belonged to the depressed classes. They
worked as domestic helps during their twilight years along with other
activities for their livelihood (Mukherjee, 1977).
At present, brothels in the area are concentrated in 45 houses located
at Premchand Boral Street and 16 houses at Nabinchand Boral Street
at the heart of the Central Kolkata under the Kolkata Municipal
Corporation (Ward number 48). It lies under the jurisdiction of
Muchipara Police Station and is owned by the landlords of the houses
from whom the tenants and sub-tenants have taken the rooms on lease
or on a rental basis. The location of the area is on the north-western side
of the crossing of Bipin Bihari Gunguly Street and Raja Rammohan
Sarani (Amhirst Street) and eastern side of the College Street Road
(Medical College and Hospital).

284 Harasankar Adhikari
About 25 per cent of the population of the area does not have direct
relation with the trade. They are linked to various services or as petty
businessmen. Many of them operate small businesses such as tea stalls,
groceries, hotels/eateries, paan and cigarette shops, flower shops,
telephone booths, unauthorised liquor shops, beauty parlours, and so
on. Their shops are usually located in the ground floor of the building,
which is not used by the sex workers or are at the side of the street. It
was also found that a sizeable section of people come to the area
temporarily during the day. These people are mainly engaged in
jewellery works, carpentry and other allied trades as daily or contract
The area is overpopulated and congested one, which is apparent from
the presence of milling crowds on the street till late at night. The area
has a decadent and descript look. The two- or three-storied buildings on
both the sides of the street have about 16–20 unventilated small rooms,
which are almost completely dark, even during day time. These are
rented by the sex workers from the brothel owners (male or female
brothel owners known as malkin) who operate the sex business and
receive a share of the earnings from sex workers at the rate of half
(called adiya) of the total earning or Rupees 10 per client per hour or on
a monthly rental basis. The rooms are used for multi-purpose activities,
such as sex business, cooking and as living room shared with the
husband/babu and children. The rooms are very old, damp and are
badly in need of renovation. In the open place there is a common toilet.
All the boarders use the common toilet and for bathing. It is easy to see
that in such a situation maintenance of privacy of the residents
becomes very difficult.
Two or three separate broken and creaking staircases from the open
space of the building interconnect various floors of the buildings. It is
again linked with two or three entranceways of small and narrow
passages, which are occupied by the sex workers during their time of
soliciting clients.
In the corner place of the lane there are many temples, but most of
the deities belong to Goddess Kali, Siva or Sitala. The temples usually
have an extended platform with roof and a small room used as a club.
Males of all ages are attached with these clubs. There are some private
diagnostic clinics in the street also. The club is also used as healthcare
centre or an education centre run by NGOs to provide free education to
the children.
Sex workers’ community sucks in the women regardless of their
religion and caste. They immediately enter into the sex workers’ world
loose their social identities and get clubbed as a prostitute or Chukri
(young girls). They live with their own households, set up by
themselves, under a system of network with owner of the houses by

Growing Up in an Adverse Milieu 285
sharing part of their earnings. There is usually no third party in this
pattern of sharing.
The resident sex workers differ from the floating sex workers. The
latter come to the area during the daytime only to play their trade and
go back to their families. They are mainly victims of social and economic
crises. Among them about 42 per cent are from the families whose
husbands lost their jobs for lockout and sudden closure of the small and
medium industries located at the suburbs of Kolkata. About 52 per cent
of them have been deserted by their husbands after they contracted
second marriage and rest 6 per cent are college girls who are victims of
broken family or of poor economic condition. The majorities of floating
sex workers (86 per cent) are Hindu and belong to higher castes. Only
24 per cent of them are from SCs. On the other hand, 94 per cent
(according to the sample) of resident sex workers (FSWs) of Bowbazar
are first generation sex workers, who entered the profession from
different districts of West Bengal/neighbouring states and even from
Bangladesh (Table 1).
TABLE 1: Social Background of FSWs and their Place of Origin
Native Place
Murshidabad District
10 (5)
80 (40)
44 (22)
134 (67)
24 Parganas (North)
14 (7)
2 (1)
6 (3)
22 (11)
24 Parganas (South)
6 (3)
3 (1.5)
3 (1.5)
12 (6)
Other districts (Hooghly,
8 (4.7)

8 (4.7)
Birbhum, Howrah,
Nadia and Midnapore) of
West Bengal
9 (4.5)
3 (1.5)
4 (2)
16 (8)
3 (1.5)
4 (1.7)
1 (0.5)
8 (3.7)
50 (25)
92 (46)
58 (29)
200 (100)
Note: Figures in parentheses indicate the percentage.
From Table 1, it is apparent that Bowbazar has impacted on the
females living in the area. Of the FSWs in the sample, 3.7 per cent to
the area. Out of which 1.5 per cent belongs to general. 1.7 per cent
FSWs are SCs and only 0.5 per cent of FSWs belong to Muslim
The FSWs of this area entered into the trade at a very young age
either as married or unmarried one through influence of persons closely
associated with their every day life. From the survey, it has been seen
that 18.7 per cent of the FSWs entered into the trade at the age of 10–15
years as unmarried and 7 per cent as married. Relatives forced 3 per

286 Harasankar Adhikari
cent of them and 2.7 per cent were influenced by their mothers.
Majority of the unmarried FSWs (10–15 years) were influenced by their
neighbours and the rest 2.5 per cent of them were lured to the
profession by persons who were not related to them or previously
unknown to them who, perhaps, took advantage of their difficult
situations. FSWs belonging to the age group of 10–15 years and who are
married have been pushed to the profession by their own
TABLE 2: FSWs, their Age, Marital Status and Recruitment Process to the
Age (in years) at the Time of Entering into the Trade
Above 20










Note: Figures in parentheses indicate the percentage.
What is of note here is that although a high percentage of FSWs are
illiterate (32.5 pr cent) or just literate (17.5 per cent) many of them have
education up to high school (36%). Of these again, Muslim FSWs have
highest representation (23 per cent). Table 3 shows that the
relationship of educational background of the FSWs with their religion
and their native place from where they have been recruited.
FSWs of the area are ranked according to the condition of their
situations. Three such categories of social ranking exist in the area.
Within the first category are those who offer themselves for sexual
pleasure and earn money in lieu of it, FSWs who have become brothel
owners and have become operators of the trade by renting out rooms of

Growing Up in an Adverse Milieu 287

288 Harasankar Adhikari
their houses and in the process control at least a significant aspects of
their FSWs lives; and the FSWs who have retired from the trade and
live with their husband without any connection with the trade. If
opportunities arise they would leave the place and settle outside with
their husbands. It may be pointed out that around 10–12 per cent of the
brothel owners in the area are males.
The FSWs withdraw from the trade after they cross 40 years of age.
They withdraw from the trade because they loose their capability to
attract clients or they settle to family lives with their babus/husbands.
Brothel owners appear from the age group 30–35 years when they have
sufficiently scrapped together money to buy houses and withdraw from
the trade altogether. The experience and acumen to learn the tricks of
the trade and develop a network of relationship to manage the FSWs
and carry on the business also require considerable time. A large
portion remains in the area also as maidservants who once again
provide a link with the myriad nods that develops in connection with
the trade. Although withdrawing from the trade midway is not
frequent, yet, gradually a negligible percentage of them do withdraw
because of influence of babus. Frequency of withdrawal is greater at the
age group of 35–40 years although withdrawal at earlier age also is not
The FSWs having been drawn into the trade acquire an identity and
social relationship of their own. The relationships of exploitation with
the male partners who visit them occasionally sometime to crystallise
into relatively permanent one. If it becomes so the male partners turn
into a babu (paramour) with whom the relationship is one convenience.
The relationship is not a natural one. But it develops through a process
of adjustment. The male partners can be a local born who becomes a
parasite on the sex workers or a customer who develops an emotional
tie with the FSWs.
It was pointed out above that FSWs enter into the sex trade either as
unmarried or married person. In case of the later they come also with
their husband and children. In their profession they come close to the
male of different ages and backgrounds as their customers with whom
they develop a business relation. But sometimes they get involved
emotionally with someone from the locality such as grown up children
of other FSWs or a customer visiting the particular FSW for sexual
enjoyment for a prolonged period. Later on when the love relationship
matures the male person is recognised as their babu or husband but it
is not formalised through rituals or socially accepted process. It may
not also mature into a familial relation. The ties seem to develop into a
spousal relation and give the flavour of social and emotional security.
Generally, the FSWs serve them as a dutiful wife where sexual relation
outside the tie is permitted for earning an income. In these cases

Growing Up in an Adverse Milieu 289
sharing of money also was noticed. The FSWs also can expect financial
assistance from their babus. It depends on how a FSW would keep a
babu under her control. Many times it was noticed that FSWs provide
all the facilities of living to the babus. They usually entertain the babu
during a particular time of the day when they get respite from the trade
at night. The babus also sometime help them in their domestic chores
and at the time of illness. The main difference of relational pattern
between the customers who enjoy the sex by paying for their services
and the babus is that the babus have some sort of reciprocal
arrangement with the FSWs. It is found that about 85 per cent of the
babus have some sort of reciprocal arrangement with the FSWs. It is
found that about 85 per cent of the babus are local males, born of
mothers who were sex workers. The local persons coerce them to accept
themselves as babu when they become close emotionally. If the FSW
declines to accept them as babu they create all sorts of hindrance to the
FSW in their pursuit of the trade. This goes on till the time a truce is
established by both the parties and an arrangement is made for
establishing a relationship. The FSW in their face off with the babus
cannot expect any intervention from the brothel owners or clubs. They
have to depend on their own skill to manage their relation with the
Despite the huddle of sex-worker’s life they desperately seek at least
one child driven by the cultural ideal that the culmination of woman’s
live is the ability to become mothers. Sexuality and fertility seems to go
hand in hand. Infertility in a woman is loaded with problems
motherhood is welcomed. Even if they are biologically incapable they
usually take a baby under their foster care or adopt one from their own
community, relatives or from other sources. We know that the child is a
social product and a mother devotes herself for his/her rearing.
The family of sex workers of Bowbazar is termed as line bari.
Apparently, the notion of line bari is closely associated with their trade
because the FSWs stand in queue to solicit customers. This notion of
line bari differs from grihastha bari and basti bari in terms of its
structure, role relationship, pattern of socialisation of children in the
family and their economic condition. In line bari, the structure of family
is imperfect. The reciprocity of the family is not established because by
all intents and purpose it is a single parent family and there is hardly
any connection with the kin. The stigmatised profession of the FSWs is
shaped in isolated life where they are considered unwanted to their
natal family. Only the FSWs who share earning with her natal family
or whose mothers or kin are in the same trade have a thin network of
relations. The values and norms of the family are not supported by kin
members or governed by social sanction and acceptance like other two
types of families. The familial ties of FSW are too much loaded with
maternal relation. Only in case of relationship with local born babus
the network extends to paternal relationship. The depth of relationship

290 Harasankar Adhikari
does not extend beyond two-generations, the parental and grand
parental. The amplitude also is very thin.
The spousal relation is not established through rituals, legally or
socially recognised relationship. The FSWs flaunt conch bangle and
vermilion on their forehead regardless of their religion they belong to,
and they change their surnames at will according to the social
identities of their babus to prove to the world that they are married and
have a social identity. This is also crucial to overcome difficulties that
may arise from the trade strictly linked with customers and the local
males. But the marital relation does not bind them together with code
of conduct implied for the persons related to a husband and husbands’
household (Ostor, et al, 1982). The relationship is just one of emotional
contact or living arrangement that binds the two together. It is also
unstable. On the other hand, the FSWs who come with her husband
undergo drastic change. The husbands remain attached to the FSWs
but his role in the family as provider or instrumental role become
insignificant or absent altogether.
It is not only the instrumental role that the sex workers’ husbands
fail to take up in the absence of any income, they also fail to have any
authority in the family. They may be begetter of children but they loose
all domestic and economic rights that constitute the framework within
which the family role relationships operate. In both grihastha and basti
these rights are present but in a different manner. The husbands
may have sexual access but the sharing of intimacy is not restricted to
him alone. In the nuclear family of FSWs, the sex workers usually play
the dual role of caring children, preparing food and assuming
responsibilities for domestic chores as expressive leader. On the other
hand, she has also to ensure the financial support and maintain the
necessary link between families and the community as well as social
world (Jamieson, 1988). But the style of mothering varies. It is found
that about 8–10 per cent of the FSWs bear child only to emphasise their
feminity and motherhood because they are found to be not particular
about providing care to their children. Sometimes, they are even found
to leave their children and shift to another red-light area to avoid being
shackled by the child and suffer from consequent decline in trade.
In the second category are mothers, who are in majority (about
82–85%). They provide limited care according to the norms and values of
motherhood upto a certain stage of development of their child. They admit
that attachment with the trade seriously hampers their care-giving
responsibilities. About 4–5 per cent found to have realised that the
constant stigmatised life is a problem and they struggle valiantly to keep
children away from the unfortunate affiliation with the sex trade by
shielding them from the social life and by providing adequate education
and moral support through interaction. They desperately hid their
involvement in the trade so that their children do not internalise the life
pattern of their trade and loose all control over their self.

Growing Up in an Adverse Milieu 291
The fatherhood in sex workers’ family may be described as ‘costless’
because the male, as father, does not incur opportunity cost or
investment in time for help and support a family. The father does not
have any expectation that biological production will lead to social
reproduction. The continuation of patriline also does not receive the
same force of cultural values. The uninvolved fatherhood creates
physical and emotional distance from children and the norms of the sex
workers’ community that entail prolonged absence from home
(Jamieson, 1988). Therefore, the father’s share of parenting and their
roles as providers and disciplinarians are virtually absent. In a sense in
this situation fathering is more to do with procreation rather than
construction of duality of relationship between children and their
father (Jamieson, 1988).
But in some cases, fathers were found to be instinctively inclined to
the child. After birth of the child babu primarily enjoys the flavour of
the fatherhood through fondling the body of the baby. Sometimes, they
take care and share their responsibility of looking after the baby
through their attention when their female partners are with their
clients. They help to feed, bathe the child and look after the needs of the
baby. Later on when the children learn to move, care and attention of
the fathers towards their children decreases significantly. But in some
cases, the male partners (babus/husbands) of FSWs (8–10 per cent),
especially those who are relatively will-off and get emotionally
involved, extend their support for the children’s care and development.
Their support provides new dimension for the survival of their children
through possession of separate shelter, even outside of the community
and sometimes, they (about 1 per cent) place their illegitimate children
in their lawfully established family. The present survey shows that the
percentage of males who provide their support is about 12–15 per cent,
out of which 8 per cent of them are living in the sex workers’ community
and rest of the males are from outside the sex workers’ community.
Only 2–3 per cent of them provide educational support to their children,
even they have made known their identity as father at the time of their
admission in school.
The attachment with the mother, sociologists point out (Bowlby, et
al, 1991) plays a crucial role in providing security to the children.
Mothers’ presence in the lives of children, the gradual evolution of
social space that defines the cognitive world, their attention to child’s
safety, and so on, provided security to the children. The situation in sex
workers’ community leaves many things to be desired. Lack of
ontological awareness (Giddens, 2000) during the time of growing up of
either sex and with the aspect of ‘going on’ in the context of day-to-day
life of sex workers’ community also creates insecurity in the mind of the
children. Practices of deferment of gratification that are enforced in
grihastha bari is hardly followed (Giddens, 2000). The network of
family relation among FSWs is very thin. The networks are smaller

292 Harasankar Adhikari
than the networks of two-parent families of grihastha bari or basti bari.
The virtual absence or reduction in paternal kinship portion of the
network makes the line smaller. It is not more than two generations in
depth. The availability and utilisation of social support as a function of
family structure do seem to play significant role in the sex-worker’s
family (Cochran, 1990). The FSWs have to contend with the problem of
maintaining a home and provide stability to the child-rearing
environment. But for protection to herself and her children she has to
foster relationship with the outside world that very often is hostile to
her cause. Her own kin that she can count on is her own mother if she
herself belonged to the trade. Consequently, the maternal grand
mother, if she is present plays a crucial role in child’s socialisation. If a
FSW is new to the trade she becomes rootless, torn out of her own
network of relationship. Her babu, frequently also is rootless, is
foreshaken by the larger society. This lack of social network on both the
sides of the parents creates a very truncated relational pattern for the
children. The predominance of maternal grand parents and
relationship with them make the network pronounced matrifocal one.
Above we have discussed the family process, structure and role relation
of the sex workers in line bari. Chil- rearing practices in the sex
workers’ family is influenced by their cultural and situational factors
that determine the level of conflict or co-operation in emerging
parent-child relationship.
David A. Wolfe (1999) has discussed three types of parenting style,
that is, authoritative, indulgent and neglecting. It has been derived
from the interactions between the dimensions of demandingness and
responsiveness with greater degree of parent-child conflict and
negative developmental outcomes. In present context of sex workers’
family and practices of child-rearing, parenting style represents the
neglecting category. The child in sex workers’ family grows up with
‘inappropriate control strategies’ without provision of minimal
standard of care-giving and nurturance.
Generally, sex workers’ child is nursed upto the age of 4–6 weeks
before the mother rejoins the trade. The attachment that the child
requires to develop with its mother is here at best partial. From the
early age the child is left to the care of the malkin. For this she is given
extra remuneration besides the rent of the room. The brothel owner
keeps her role restricted to changing the diaper or feeding the child
when the need reaches a critical point. It is also found that the relatives
who are in the same trade or are the dependent of the sex workers and
live in the area look after the child. The child also found to receive care
of other FSWs of same building or siblings’ care. But all these
caregivers’ role is contingent. Only the siblings’ care is to an extent
permanent. But the attachment that develops here seems to be

Growing Up in an Adverse Milieu 293
superficial. The process of building a secure relationship and through it
development of norms and values of human relationship other than
material comfort remains problematic. The mother’s role as sex worker
interferes with her role as caregivers. The attachment that a child
develops is imperfect. Nor the child gets the required attention and care
from the malkin who is paid for this job. On the other hand, where the
biological father is male partner/husband/babu of FSW, they hardly
play any role in taking care of the baby.
When the baby learns to move it is left alone in the room or outside of
the room. Sometimes the siblings or neighbours accompany the baby.
Only at the time of feeding it reaches for the mother or others who
provide the same. They pick up slang words from their very infancy and
show lot of aggressiveness. Sex workers who are attentive to their
children try to avoid this by arranging separate shelter.
Sex differentiation begins quite at early stage among the children.
Girls start usually household chores at very young age and usually by
that time they are 8–10 years old. They perform almost all household
chores ranging from sweeping, fetching water, looking after younger
siblings, shopping and sometimes cooking or assisting mother. Male
child, who has no siblings of opposite sex, has to assist his mother. Even
they assist the clients of mothers who are called as “mayer lok
(mother’s man) by providing foods, alcohol, and so on. The sibling
relation among male children is less strong while the female children
are more attentive or are forced to be attentive about her younger
The children come in contact with community from their infancy
when their mothers have to go out from their rooms and work as sex
workers. When they are 2–3 years old they are forced to stay out on the
street. They usually stay in the open place of the building or lane. The
playgroups emerge from that time. They have to play till late night. The
playgroup develops into a peer group of 6 to 8 members at the age of 5–6
years, usually separately for boys and girls.
Gradually the male children move out but stay close together even
when they move outside their own area. So the male peer group is
formed from their area that is contiguous and develops some sort of
herd mentality. During their play session they are attracted to
different toys and foods displayed in the neighbourhood and start
stealing. They adopt some techniques of stealing of various things like
fruits, toys and other things that prove to be attractive to the group.
Before their action they chalk out a plan through consultation
together under the guidance of a leader. They mainly plan on selection
of spot and how they would come out is case they face any danger.
They frequently go to the nearby Sealdah market including station,
Nebutala Park (Santosh Mitra Square), Sardhananda Park, and
College Street within a radius of half to one Kilometre from their
locality. They also use the area for games.

294 Harasankar Adhikari
After accomplishing the task of stealing, the spoils are shared
equally among the members, even by those who have made no
contribution. But poor performance of one member on regular basis is
not tolerated. If it happens the member does not get share. So, one tries
to show off his performance, otherwise he feels threatened of being
isolated from the group.
The leader learns to exploit others. He generally takes the major
portion of their stolen materials. The problem relating to the division of
the stolen material breaks their group solidarity. When they reach the
age of more than 10 years, they gradually withdraw from their overt
behaviour of stealing. For one thing, they become too conspicuous.
Stealing is instead shifted to home and community. They are also
engaged by their mothers. They assist their mothers or their
neighbours as errand boy and learn the intricacies of the trade. This is
the age when the local thus (mastans) take them under their wings.
Rejected by outsiders, they find solace in bonding within their own
community. The female peer group is mostly involved in indoor games
and stay within their own community.
The bondage of the group members is reflected in in-group action as
protector when any of the members faces difficulties, that is, injury or
falls ill in collective performance through taking him or her to nearby
hospital for his/her treatment. They become the link between the
hospital and the community by bringing the message of improvement
or deterioration to the community. Moreover, they share in the merry
making or enjoyment jointly during festivals observed in their
There are seven local clubs in the locality. The clubs are a platform of
males of all ages located in the ground floor of an old building consisting
one or two rooms at the corner places of an adjacent streets or lanes,
which has been left by the landlords due to legal dispute, or any other
unknown reason. The clubs divide the community into separate paras
(hamlets) because a club of the locality is allowed to be joined by the
males of that locality or of particular house having a numbers of sex
workers. It is solely used by the males for their entertainment and
shelter, and so on. The local club becomes a resting place, a place for
interaction with the peer and occupy pivotal role in regulating their
lives. It is here they become apprentice of the seniors. Learn smoking
ganja and drinking alcohol, and become a conduit for the same to the
The interest in sex develops at a very early stage by observing their
mothers’ engagement in the sex trade. It has been observed from their
curiosity when a child of 1½ – 2 years asked her mother when she would
stand at the gate or when that person would come to her who gave her
money or what is his/her mother doing in the closed room, and so on.
The playgroup tries to stealthily observe the activities referred to as
asabhya kaj” (illicit work) through the hole of the house collectively.

Growing Up in an Adverse Milieu 295
And later on the playgroup tries to follow it as a game and imitate the
same activities with partner of opposite sex. When both the groups of
boys and girls pass their transition period of childhood to teenage,
gradually they change their behaviour. The boys’ involvement in the
club increases.
The girls’ group becomes more attentive to household chores. The girl
child learns to share different emotional and sexual feeling with other
girls, especially they gossip about who ‘liked’ whom, their beauty care,
dresses and ornaments. Gradually, they dream of developing romantic
relation with the boys of their community or with the babu’s of their
mothers. The emotional contacts become the central point of their
discussion. When their romantic relations develop they get married with
or without the consent of their mothers and leave their mother’s place.
The pattern of socialisation and schooling for education serves to
transform the cultural heritage of a community into a common individual
consciousness. So, education of a child is a key instrument in the path of
becoming a productive and sensitive citizen. The parental care and
attention at the initial stage of schooling also is an important factor to a
new learner. The education as a process of socialisation depends on the
parental attitude and interest, familial relation, socio-economic status,
ideologies, school and social environment of community.
We surveyed 250 children belonging to 130 FSWs (out of total 200
FSWs) at various stages of involvement in the trade. We found that the
mothers’ status in the trade influence their children’s education (Table
4). Among the ninety-seven children of FSWs surveyed 14.4 per cent
children do not attend school and an equal percentage of the children
dropped out from school.
TABLE 4: Education Status of the Children and its Relationship with the
FSWs’ Socioeconomic Background
FSW’s Background in the
Education Status of
Malkin Withdrawal
Engaged in
from the
other Activities
Including Sex
Non-school going
School going
Dropped out
Note: Figures in Parentheses indicate the percentage.

296 Harasankar Adhikari
FIGURE 1: Pattern of Childcare and its impact on the Process of
Growing Up
- Aggressive
Poor relational representation
and interaction pattern
- Lack of self-control
- Precocious and provocative,

Inappropriate control and
premarital sex and
strategies in childcare
Inconsistent and disorganised
- Academic incompetence and
high drop out
- Poor economy and depending
on mothers/
relatives or other’s

Inadequate or neglecting type
of parenting
-Marriage at young age
-Marital conflict and marital

Only 10 per cent of them are continuing to participate in educational
process. On the other hand, 9.6 per cent of the children of malkins are
non-school going. Of the children attending school highest percentage
(14 per cent) belong to malkins’ families. But 9.6 per cent children also
have dropped out from their school from this category. Only 8 per cent
of the children whose mothers have withdrawn from the trade are in
school, 4 per cent of them do not go to schools at all, and 6.8 per cent
have dropped out. Beside these three categories, there are mothers who
have withdrawn from the trade but are otherwise engaged in other
activities, that is, selling alcohol or work as maidservants for their
livelihood. Only 4 per cent of their children are in school, 2 per cent of
their children remain out of school. 3.2 per cent of their children
dropped out at various stages of schooling.
The urban pattern of schooling is to send the children to school from
pre-primary stage. From the Table 5 it is found that this practice is
confined to only 4 per cent of the children. Ten per cent did not attend
pre-primary stage and 4 per cent dropped out even at that early age. As
we climb up the age-group ladder we find that the percentage of
non-schooling and drop out too increases. The rate of drop out was

Growing Up in an Adverse Milieu 297
highest among the age 10–16 years and non-schooling in the age group
6–10 years. Nearly 60 per cent of the children remain out of school
during their childhood.
TABLE 5: Sex and Age-wise Distribution of Children and their Educational
Educational Status
Below 6

Note: Figures in parentheses indicate the percentage.
The insecurity brought about by uncertain attachment at the early
stage of childhood and non-deferment of gratification, including very
early initiation to sex life of the children, leave their imprints on
schooling. Yet, we find that educational development of children to a
certain extent is correlated to their mothers’ present involvement in the
trade. Generally, mothers who are malkins are economically better off
than the mothers who are in the trade directly. Secondly, the mothers
who have withdrawn from the profession are economically weak
because either they depend on their babus or they earn money through
selling alcohol or work as maidservants of malkins.
It was observed that the pre-primary education is almost common to
all the children because the mothers find it expedient to keep the
children away from their rooms so that the children can spend their
time at educational centres run by NGOs. This also helps the mothers
to be free from their encumbrance. Thereafter, the schooling of children
depends on their mothers’ attitude and economic condition.
Table 6 describes the relation of children’s educational status with
their mothers’ educational and economical status. We find that
majority (17.6 per cent) of the non-school going children’s mothers are
illiterate or just literate. Secondly, we find that 34 per cent of the
children drop out at various stages. The rate of school going children is
highest (14 per cent) among the children of malkins.
Primarily attitude of mothers towards their children’s education
depends on their economic condition and the relationship with the male
because their collaborative initiative helps to arrange separate space

298 Harasankar Adhikari

Growing Up in an Adverse Milieu 299
for their children so as to keep them separate from the room where they
operate their trade. They have also tried to give special attention
through arrangement of coaching facilities to their children. The
background of natal family of the mothers has an influence to monitor
and supervise the education of their children. The mothers who are
from upper caste groups, in spite of not being educated, see education as
an instrument of change for the future of their children. They hope that
it might help to overcome their stigmatised life cycle.
The attendance of the children in school is also poor. They attend
school for 3 to 4 days in a week. We have seen that 68 per cent (170, out
of 250) of the children are being provided with facilities of separate
shelter, coaching and other supports altogether so as to achieve a
standard of education for their better future. But the milieu of sex
workers’ community is the main obstacle to remain in school or achieve
better performance because ‘inappropriate control strategies’ that was
noted earlier. Secondly, the children suffer from the problem of identity
and lack of care on the part of mothers for their development. If we see
the process of growing up of children of floating sex workers or
residential sex workers we find that their educational performance is
relatively better. They receive more frequent attention from their
mothers, the attachment grow as interaction grow. These mothers are
also able to hide their identity because of separation of work place and
children’s place of living.
The performance of children in their school was observed by
recording their performance in annual examinations during the last
five years. What is noteworthy here that the percentage of success in
school annual examination is higher among the children who have been
provided separate shelter, supported by NGOs or by their mothers. On
the other hand, performance of the girl child is better than the boys. Of
the 46 children. who were provided with separate shelter, only 6 failed
to get promoted. Out of 104 children, who got the support of NGOs, 36
children have passed with consideration. The private coaching has also
helped 87 children to pass the annual examination with special
consideration out of 146 students who received private coaching.
Table 8 analysed the reason behind drop out of the children from
their school. We generally see that drop out rate rapidly increases when
the children attend their high school education. Here we find incident of
drop out increased from class V. 70.2 per cent of the children dropped
out in class V–VIII. There were different reasons behind drop out of
children from their school. From this table it is found that 14 per cent of
them dropped out due to lack of their mothers’ support. Twenty per cent
of them left their school because of poor performance. Out of which 6.9
per cent left their schools in class IX–X. On the other hand, household
pressure forced 17.6 per cent children to leave the school. Among them
9.2 per cent stopped their education at primary level and 7.9 per cent of
them at high school level. The peer groups influence highest percentage

300 Harasankar Adhikari

Growing Up in an Adverse Milieu 301

302 Harasankar Adhikari
of children to leave their education because their engagement in group
activities was more attractive. The romantic relationship with boys or
mothers’ babu influenced 7 per cent girls to leave school when they
were in class VII–VIII or IX–X. The behaviour of school teachers forced
3.3 per cent children to stop their education at class VII–VIII level
because they were poor in class attendance, and preparation of home
task were very uneven. Among these children 4.6 per cent (2.3 per cent
males and females each) did not report the cause of their drop out.
When we examine the relationship of children’s drop out with their
involvement in domestic we found that as many as 49.4 per cent of the
children, both girls and boys, are involved in domestic work. 11.7 per
cent of the children were forced to help other FSWs in their domestic
chores. 16.9 per cent of the children were employed from very age. Two
girls who reached their puberty were drafted in the trade but 20 per
cent were also left free.
At the same time, we find (Table 9) that majority of the adolescent
depends on their mothers for their food and other necessities (48.2 per
cent) even after hey got married. The table shows that 2.3 per cent boys,
who are below 18 years of age, are married and depend on their
mothers. On the other hand, 3.3 per cent girls of same age group are
married, but also depend on their mothers. It is significant that 9.3 per
cent adolescents who are above 18 years of age are married. We find
that 23.4 per cent depend on their partners’ earning, and all of them,
are married. The relatives of the adolescents provide support to 16.4
per cent of them and most of them (10.8 per cent) are married. Only 11.7
per cent of them are independent and they earn from the trade.
From the survey we find that the young boys and girls of sex workers’
community are involved in various occupations depending on their
educational background. We have seen from the community census
that 125 young, including 48 (38.4 per cent) girls, within the age group
of 15–35 years are involved in various jobs within their community and
outside their community. Their educational background is an
important factor in the selection of their occupations, even outside their
community. Among the boys, 80.5 per cent are engaged in occupations
that are available within their community, and 19.5 per cent of them
are occupationally involved outside their community.
If the mother’s occupation has an affect on the children’s education
this also seems to affect their employability outside their community.
35.4 per cent find no employment. Majority gravitates to occupations
that are linked to trade related to sex. Boys who received education
upto class IX and above find employment in eateries or catering
business, courier agency and other part-time jobs (Table 11) where
their stigmatised life is to be hidden.

Growing Up in an Adverse Milieu 303

304 Harasankar Adhikari
TABLE 10: Employment Pattern of Sex Workers’ Children (Boys) within
their Own Community
Worker in
No Work
Hotel, Tea
Shop and

Upto Primary
Upto Class VIII
Class IX and Above

Note: Figures in Parentheses indicate the percentage.
TABLE 11: Occupational Status of Children Outside the Community
Part-time Broker for
Job in
job in
selling of
ticket of


Upto Primary


Upto Class-VIII

Class-IX and Above

Note: Figures in parentheses indicate the percentage.
On the other hand, it was found that the occupational status of girl
child reflects a different picture. We find that 33.3 per cent of them are
directly engaged in the trade as FSWs. A significant portion of the girls
(39.5%), in our sample, was found to be helping their mothers either in
their trade or as malkins. They belong to tender age of 16–18. Already
they are deeply involved in the trade although they do not directly
participate in it. Marriage is an option. But fragility of marriage-ties

Growing Up in an Adverse Milieu 305
draws a bleak picture for them. For the girls to get jobs outside is very
difficult with the level of their education. Some work as maidservants,
but it was also found that at least one girl has been able to break the
shackle of her birth; she has become a school teacher.
TABLE 12: Occupational Status of Young Girls (Children of FSWs) in
Respect of their Education
Worked House-
Mothers Servant Neo-mal
Workers Service



Upto Primary


Upto Class

Upto Class X


H.S. & Above


Note: Figures in Parentheses indicate the percentage.
The above analysis on the social and economic situation of the
children of sex worker points out that their mothers’ occupation and the
circumstances of the community has created a divide between them
and the larger society.
From the foregoing analysis it is found that the sex workers’ milieu is
peculiar in nature. The sex workers are mostly recruited in the trade
from depressed castes driven off from rural backward areas by extreme
poverty. They are mostly illiterate or have experience of education upto
primary or high school. The process of growing up of sex workers’
children is a complex one in terms of the peculiarities of their family, its
construction and role relation, social and cultural aspect and economy.
The family known as line bari is a huddle of single room for
multi-purpose activities including sex trade. The conjugal relation is
transitory or absent and it is the basic difference from the grihastha
or basti bari. A FSW has to earn money to keep her body and soul
together. The primacy of this struggle for survival overtakes her
motherhood. The space she has is often limited to the bed. The problem
of space pushes out the child from their mother at an early stage of their
life. The consequence is the child neither gets protection nor

306 Harasankar Adhikari
attachment, creating a life of insecurity. The former can be bought. And
it is done by leaving the child at the care of malkins.
The single mother meets both the role of expressive leader and
instrumental leader for the survival of baby because the role of father is
absent or insignificant. The networks of relation in a sex worker’s
family extend only to one direction because only maternal relation gets
prominence while the paternal relation is virtually absent. This is true
in case of the family’s involvement in sex trade beyond one generation.
So, the structure and process of the family of sex workers provide
inappropriate and disorganised childcare. The parenting style is more
neglecting than caring. As a result of this the children become
aggressive and demanding, and they generally lack self-control.
As a consequence of the above circumstances the children do not get
the benefit of family’s network of relation during their period of growing
up. Consequently, the vicious cycle of FSW è child è FSW continues
because overall situation in terms of the family set up, parenting style,
mothers’ attitude towards education of their children, and economy
force the young one in sex life from an early age. The dominant theme of
sex trade draws in the young one through the process of socialisation
and isolation from the outside world. This is apparent in the social
process involved in educating the children of the sex workers, their
choice of occupation and life process. Whenever efforts have been made
to separate the children from the milieu some success in achieving
better education leading to breaking off the ties of birth was evident.
This also leads to better prospect of their integration with the larger
It was also pointed out that because of acute paucity of space the
children are forced to court relationship that draws them in within the
vicious cycle. A significant portion of the children who have been
provided with space or attention from an early age do participate in
educational process as evident from their performance in school.
Children receiving attention from NGOs perform better. But even here
we find that this process is nullified by the peculiar circumstances of
their life. The intervention, if it is to be successful, has to take into
account the acute loss of space during childhood. But by saying this we
do not mean that this is the only intervention that will help the FSWs’
children need. The deeper needs like insecurity and anxiety syndrome
that the children suffer from require other method of intervention.
I express my deep sense of gratitude to Prof. Dikshit Sinha, Department of Social
Work, Visva Bharati, for his guidance, advice and encouragement in every step of
this study. I am grateful to the Board of Governors of The Paul Foundation for
providing me with a scholarship to carry out field work, and to Ms. Sikha

Growing Up in an Adverse Milieu 307
Mukherjee, Chief Executive of The Paul Foundation, for her valuable help and
support during the course of field work. I also thank all those who extended their
help and cooperation at various stages of this study.
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THE INDIAN JOURNAL OF SOCIAL WORK, Volume 68, Issue 2, April 2007