Gates Foundation Funds Prostitutes’ ‘Union’ in India

By C-FAM Staff | November 11, 2005

     (NEW YORK – C-FAM) The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation gave $1 million to an Indian organization that acts as a "labor union" for prostitutes according to federal agency documents obtained by the Friday Fax. The documents also reveal that members of the Gates-funded organization attacked law enforcement officials in India who sought to rescue minors from brothels.

    In 2002 the Gates Foundation gave the Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee (DMSC) a $1 million grant "to determine the factors contributing to the success of" a particular "HIV/AIDS prevention project in Calcutta, India, and design training materials for use in other settings" according to the foundation's annual report from that year.

    But according to the agency document, the DMSC acts as a sort of union for prostitutes and has financial incentives to protect prostitution from government interference and resist efforts to curb human trafficking. The document says many of the members of DMSC are older ex-prostitutes who have paid off their debts to traffickers and brothel owners and are unable to attract new customers. These members become madams or brothel owners themselves and rely on revenues generated by children newly brought into the brothel system. DMSC distributes benefits to older members based on money generated by the profitable underage Indian prostitutes. Thus, DMCS is said to have "a strong incentive to maintain this heinous trade as part of its 'revenue sharing' scheme." Some of the prostitutes are as young as 10-years-old.

    Dr. Helene Gayle, director of the Gate's Foundation's HIV, TB, and Reproductive Health program defended DMSC. "It is important to clarify that DMSC has rules and regulatory boards in place to fight trafficking, and has programs to discourage minors from voluntarily becoming sex workers. As a result of these efforts, the number of minors working in [Calcutta's red light district] has dropped dramatically since the project started in 1992 and is much lower than in other red-light districts." The federal agency document disputes those claims saying Calcutta's red light district remains full of minors with one estimate saying that as many as 50 percent of the prostitutes in that neighborhood are underage. The document also cites an article from the Times of India reporting that several members of DMSC attacked police officers trying to rescue a 14-year-old locked in a brothel. Such behavior indicates, according to the document, complicity with trafficking.

    The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has an endowment of more than $28.8 billion and has given away almost $10 billion since its formation in January of 2000. The foundation identifies reproductive health as among its priorities and has given $60 million to Johns Hopkins University to increase access to "reproductive health programs in the developing world."