Sex workers in India now have the option of taking out life insurance cover -- a move they hope will speed up their bid to legalise the profession, a charity said Monday.
"Sex workers approached Life Insurance Corporation of India, which agreed to provide insurance coverage," said Smarajit Jana, chief adviser to Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee (Committee for Indomitable Women), a group representing 65,000 sex workers.
"We have started by signing up 199 sex workers in Sonagachi, one of Asia's largest red light districts, housing over 10,000 women involved in the business," he told AFP.
Sex workers in Sonagachi, in the sprawling eastern Indian city of Kolkata, can earn as much as three hundred rupees (seven dollars) a day. They have been offered quarterly premiums of 25 to 250 rupees for policies worth 5,000 to 30,000 rupees, Jana said.
Prostitution is illegal in India where, according to the National AIDS Control Organisation, there are 1.2 million sex workers.
"Our target is to bring 50 percent of the sex workers of the country under the insurance coverage by 2008," Jana said.
An official of the state-run Life Insurance Corporation of India, Gita Chatterjee, said the company "is ready to sell the concept Jevan Madhur plan as a micro insurance policy specially designed for sex workers."
"The policy will not cover accidental deaths or disability due to intentional self-injury, suicide, insanity or immorality under the influence of drugs, liquor or narcotics," she said.
"As life risk is covered, the only condition set by LIC is a routine medical check-up for these women since they are at a high risk of HIV/AIDS," she said.
Sex worker Swapna Gayen hailed the move as "a victory for sex workers."
"It would put our campaign a step forward to legalise our profession," said Gayen, 30.