The agony of Colombia’s quarantined sex workers

BOGOTA • Ana Maria broke quarantine rules to make a “home visit”, while Estefania left home to sell drugs.

Survival has become a struggle for Colombia’s sex workers during the coronavirus pandemic lockdown, as cupboards are bare and bills pile up.

Before the health emergency, they worked on the streets or in brothels in a country where sex work is legal. Now, with half of humanity in confinement and those places off-limits, they are struggling on handouts and meagre savings.

Neither will suffice, though, and many risk fines or even prison to break the lockdown. Worse still, they’re potentially exposing themselves to the virus, which has infected almost 3,500 Colombians and killed more than 150.

“I was in quarantine, but I had to go and do a home visit,” Ana Maria told AFP.

“What can I do? I can’t die of hunger,” said the 46-year-old from Facatativa, a town 40km from the capital Bogota.

With a dwindling supply of gas for cooking, and no more fruits or vegetables in her pantry, she took a taxi to a client’s home for an encounter that would earn her US$10 (RM43.70).

“I couldn’t wait…the state help hadn’t arrived,” said Ana Maria, referring to subsidies promised to vulnerable people.

The lockdown began on March 25, and Ana Maria said she had strictly complied until April 3 when she paid the home visit.

The quarantine is due to last until April 27 at least.

Sometimes, she hears knocking at her door, usually a friend with hungry children.

But, “I’ve nothing” to give, she said.

Sometimes Fidelia Suarez’s cellphone rings at 2am. On the other end of the line, she hears the “desperate” voice of one of the 2,200 members of Colombia’s union of sex workers.

“We’re in a critical situation,” said Suarez, the union’s president.

“Some are on the brink of going hungry or of being turned out of their homes because they can’t pay the rent,” said Suarez, although officially there’s a ban on evictions during the lockdown.

Suarez spends her days delivering food to union members in Bogota, but the requests outnumber the donations. — AFP