Makeshift brothels crop up in Sri Lanka as economic hardship pushes women into prostitution

Lotus tower in Colombo, Sri Lanka

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In Sri Lanka, which is battling a crushing economic crisis, is now facing another predicament with its women, most of them who have lost their jobs in the textile sector, now forced to become sex workers to earn a livelihood, the ANI reported.

In the wake of the unprecedented crisis in the country, 22 million Sri Lankans are facing enormous hardship and prospects of poverty. The difficulties brought by the current situation in the country have pushed many families to the edge. A large number of people in Sri Lanka are facing difficulties running their households with daily struggles to procure food and essential items.

This dire situation has seen makeshift brothels cropping up across the country. There has been an increase of 30 per cent in prostitution in the last few months as women here are forced to become sex workers to earn a livelihood, according to Stand-up Movement Lanka (SUML), a group that works for the rights of sex workers.

Some of these establishments operate as spas and wellness centres. Many say that this is the only way to provide their families with three meals a day.

“Women working in the textile industry are resorting to ‘sex work’ after being fired due to the economic crisis,” Ashila Dandeniya, Executive Director,  told ANI.

“Due to the current crisis, we have noticed that many women are taking up prostitution. Most of them are from the textile industry. After covid, the textiles industries were affected and many jobs were cut and now the current situation is forcing them into sex work for their livelihoods,” she said.

21-year-old Rehana (name changed) shared her story with ANI about how she turned from an employee of the textile industry to a sex worker. Rehana lost her job seven months ago and after months and months of despair, she took up prostitution.

“In December last year, I lost my job in a textile factory. Then, I got another job on a daily basis. Sometimes, when the manpower was less, I used to go and work. But I could not get the money as I did not get it regularly and it was too little to take care of my needs and that of the family. Then, a spa owner approached me and I decided to work as a sex worker due to the current crisis. My mind refused to accept the offer but I was in dire need of money for my family,” she told ANI.

Forty-two-year-old Rozy (name changed) is another one of the many who became a sex worker.

A mother of a seven-year-old, she was divorced and she had to earn enough to pay for her daughter’s education and rent.

“Income is insufficient due to the economic crisis. Money is not enough for my family’s domestic needs. That’s why I chose this. I run a shop and I have to pay to keep it running. Because of this problem many prostitutes are now there,” she told ANI.

It is also believed that a big reason behind becoming sex workers is that girls and women who used to earn LKR 20,000 to 30,000 a month, get about LKR 15,000-20,000 in a day. But there are many problems that they face.

The Executive Director of SUML further said, ” Many sex workers started living with their partners but due to the crisis the partner had to leave many girls. Many of them have become pregnant also… at present we have two girls who are pregnant and we need to take care of them and we are not getting help anywhere even from the government.”

Previously in an interview with ANI, UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) Sri Lanka’s country director, Abdur Rahim Siddiqui said 6.3 million people in the island nation are food insecure. He said the country’s economy is currently facing the worst food crisis since independence and staggering inflation is expected to rise in the next few months.

“Sri Lanka has been facing a severe food crisis since its independence. The rate of food inflation is over 80 per cent till June and this trend is likely to pick up in the coming months,” Siddiqui said.

Sri Lanka is facing an acute shortage of fuel, food and foreign exchange and is going through a worse economic crisis. The people of this island nation are expecting the IMF to give a bailout package.