Thousands of Dalit girls are forced into prostitution every year. The link between caste and forced prostitution is apparent in the Devadasi and Jogini systems practiced in India.Another aspect is the problem of forced conversions of Hindu girls in Pakistan.
In India, the Devadasi and Jogini systems are a form of religiously sanctioned sexual abuse. Originally a sacred, religious practice, the Devadasi dedication of girls to temples has turned into a systematic abuse of young Dalit girls serving as prostitutes for dominant caste community members. Most girls and women in India’s urban brothels come from Dalit, lower-caste, tribal, or minority communities.
In 2007, Anti-Slavery International published a study on the practice of ritual sexual slavery or forced religious ‘marriage’. It found that 93% of Devadasi were from Scheduled Castes (Dalits) and 7% from Scheduled Tribes (indigenous) in India.
Keeping Dalit women as prostitutes and tying prostitution to bondage is a means of subjugation by dominant castes seeking to enforce their social status and economic superiority. Girls who become Devadasi and Jogini are prohibited from marrying and are stigmatized by the community. The children of Devadasi and Jogini suffer from discrimination because they do not have a recognized father.
In Nepal, the Badi caste is a Dalit ‘sub-caste’. Many Badi women are forced into prostitution and end up being trafficked to Mumbai’s sex industry. The traditional ties of the Badi community to the sex trade may make girls and women in this community particularly vulnerable to exploitation. Badi girls are frequently pressured by their families to start working as a prostitute at an early age to help with the household income. Lack of education and discrimination means that other job opportunities are rare. Their ‘customers’ are frequently upper caste men – local businessmen, politicians etc – who shun them in public.
In Pakistan, Hindu girls are particularly vulnerable to forced conversion under the disguise of marriage of choice. The worst victims are Scheduled Caste girls who are kidnapped or lured into conversion, sexually exploited and then abandoned. Typically girls are abducted, raped and kept in custody, where they are forced to sign marriage certificates and claim that they have converted to Islam.
Several UN treaty bodies have expressed concern about the harmful, customary practices of the dowry and devadasi systems, forced marriage, sexual exploitation, and marital rape, with an emphasis on the vulnerable position of women from the Dalit and tribal communities. Further references.
Download an IDSN submission to the UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery as input to a thematic report on forced marriage (May 2012)
Read IDSN recommendations on good practices and strategies to eliminate caste discrimination (addressing multiple discrimination against Dalit women)
IDSN has created an extensive database on caste-based discrimination.
Videos – Caste Discrimination and Forced Prostitution
Below is a video dealing with caste discrimination and forced prostitution. Visit IDSN’s YouTube Channel for more videos on other themes/countries.