[(c) September 2006/Jon Warren/World Vision]
AIDS adds a cruel twist to temple prostitution.
World Vision Magazine, Spring 2007
By Dean Owen
Seven-year-old Mani lost her mother to AIDS—nowadays a major occupational hazard for a devadasi, otherwise known as a temple prostitute. Her grandmother, another devadasi, is also dead.
Today, despite several state and national laws prohibiting the devadasi system, this form of prostitution continues. “Weddings” are usually performed at odd hours in private ceremonies to escape detection. Humanitarian organizations estimate that as many as 5,000 Indian girls become devadasis each year.
In the state of Karnataka, World Vision employs former devadasis as peer counselors, to help current devadasis avoid HIV infection and offer skills training to help them find alternative employment.
But it is not easy to convince a working temple prostitute to get another job. A devadasi can earn as much as 5,000 rupees (about $120) a day for sexual favors compared to a couple of dollars for working 10 hours or more as a seamstress.
Former devadasi and peer counselor Ningamma, who is herself HIV-positive, remains undeterred. “We’ve learned lessons, and we want to pass on what we have learned,” she says. “Why should girls be sacrificed and traumatized?”
—Dean Owen is a media relations director for World Vision.
—Jon Warren is the photo director for World Vision and photo editor for World Vision magazine.
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