Should India Legalize Prostitution?

The Supreme Court (SC) of India recently suggested legalizing prostitution as a solution to the reality that, despite a raft of law, there is a rapid proliferation of the sex trade. The apex court, presided by a two-judge bench, said no legislation anywhere in the world had successfully managed to stop the sex trade, and legalizing it would allow authorities to "monitor the trade, rehabilitate and provide medical aid to those involved".

This suggestion, however, has received a mixed response from activists working with sex workers in India. While those like Dr S. Jana, the man behind the formation of 65,000-strong sex workers' forum, the Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee (DMSC) have welcomed it, others fear that such a move would only encourage traffickers and the prostitution mafia.

Jana, who is the principal of the Kolkata-based Sonagachi Research and Training Institute (SRTI), sees the Apex Court's comments as a positive development. According to him, no amount of punitive action has or can prevent prostitution. It has only led to violence and criminalization of the trade. "Sex work should be treated as work and brought under the Work Schedule of the labor department. Sex workers from both the brothels and the streets should be recognized as workers and Immoral Traffic Prevention Act (IPTA) should not be applied to them. Legalizing the trade will also help curb the spread of HIV," he reasons.

The Court was hearing a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by the NGOs, Bachpan Bachao Andolan (Save Childhood Movement) and Childline, complaining about large-scale child trafficking in the country and seeking directives to contain it. Says R.S. Chaurasia, Chairperson, Bachpan Bachao Andolan, "We are against all forms of exploitation of men, women and children including commercial sexual exploitation, forced labor and all such slavery-like practices. We have filed this petition against trafficking within India as well as across international borders with the intention of developing better policies against all forms of trafficking."

Madhu Kishwar, Professor at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies and Founder Editor of 'Manushi', is clearly against legalizing prostitution. "We will only end up giving immunity to the pimps and brothels to buy or sell human beings. This will in turn increase trafficking of young women and children." She pointed out that it is also worth noting that the judges were not dealing with those women who take to this profession as a choice, but with children who are abducted, trapped, bought and sold by criminal mafias to be inducted into the flesh trade.

In India, the Immoral Traffic Prevention Act (ITPA) is the only piece of legislation dealing with the crime of trafficking but it only considers trafficking as prostitution and is not in accordance with International Policies and Guidelines, including the Palermo Protocol of 2001, which India has signed. This is an unsatisfactory state of affairs because Article 23 of the Indian Constitution prohibits "traffic in human beings and all similar forms of forced labor".

Prostitution is legal with some restrictions in Canada, almost all of Europe including England, France, Wales and Denmark, most of South America including most of Mexico (often in special zones), Brazil, Israel (Tel Aviv is known as the brothel capital of the world), Australia, and many other countries. It is either legal or tolerated in most of Asia. Even Iran has "temporary wives", which can be for only a few hours. In 2003, New Zealand passed one of the most comprehensive decriminalization acts, which even made street hookers legal.

However, Kishwar argues that despite legalizing sex work, the women involved are not free from dehumanizing forms of sex slavery and prostitutes do not command social respect. Therefore, copycat solutions will not work. While there is need to decriminalize this activity and free women in prostitution from the terror and extortionist grip of the police, to make it socially acceptable would mean turning a blind eye to the dehumanizing circumstances under which the vast majority of children and women are trapped into the trade.

Pravin Patkar, the founder of Mumbai-based NGO, Prerana, which works for the rehabilitation of children of sex workers, tends to agree with Kishwar's views. He feels that decriminalization of the profession will open the floodgates for human trafficking. "Despite having a well-formulated law against trafficking, we have been unable to check the menace. By what stretch of imagination can we believe that trafficking can be curbed when the trade itself is decriminalized?" he asks.

"Within the Indian context, sex work is 'dhanda', a business. It is an exchange of a sexual service for monetary benefit," explains Meena Seshu, a feminist activist and founder of SANGRAM, an organization based in Sangli, Maharashtra, that has helped women in prostitution become AIDS educators among themselves and in the wider community. "Legalization of this business will not help the women involved in this business. It would mean that the state would have more control over the mobility of the sex workers and also increase their vulnerability to mandatory testing of HIV and STD," she elaborates. Indian law and government policies have failed to protect sex workers, as ambiguity in the law has made sex workers vulnerable to abuse. According to Seshu, this abuse has been exacerbated in recent years because the increased visibility of sex workers due to public health interventions has proved dangerous.

Coupled with this is the attention this visibility is attracting from the moral brigade. According to Seshu, it has spearheaded the strategy of "raid, rescue and restore" (R3) missions. The R3 ideology stems from the idea that all prostitution is a form of sexual victimization. According to her, these programs have not only proved to be indiscriminate, violent and incredibly destructive of invaded communities, they have also proven ineffectual in combating HIV/AIDS, child prostitution and sex trafficking.

"But has anyone asked what women in the trade feel?" asks Kamlabai, a sex worker with Veshya Anyay Mukti Parishad (VAMP - Prostitutes Against Injustice) for almost 12 years. The 50-year-old, who hails from Karnataka says, "On the one hand the police use force and violence against us. On the other, the society discriminates against us because of our profession. Will the violence and discrimination end once our profession is legalized? Suppose we get identity cards, and we have to migrate, what will be the process? Will I get rid of corrupt police officials, pimps then? I want to know what benefits me - de-criminalization or legalization." But Kamlabai is clear about one thing. "If there is a law for us it has to be made with our participation," she says.

On trafficking she believes that women in prostitution cannot be put into a box. "The fact that a majority of adult women in sex work consent to it is disbelieved and ignored. The understanding that trafficking is synonymous to sex work or prostitution has also dodged the strategies by policy makers, who insist that all women in sex work are victims of trafficking. Not all the women in sex work are trafficked and not all trafficked women are in sex work," she argues.

Even women in prostitution, who are informed of their health rights, do not always have full agency in protecting themselves. Police, government officials and criminals will often force these women to have sex without condoms, threatening them with blackmail, extortion, arrest and/or violence. They are, therefore, at a higher risk of contracting diseases, with a lesser chance of accessing good health care.

Because society deems women in prostitution as morally corrupt, they are assumed to be guilty in any altercation, and thus "deserving" of any violence committed against them. This amounts to a gross denial of their human rights.


More by :  Kamayani Bali Mahabal

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Views: 3457      Comments: 5

Comment I've failed to find so far a substantial argument against the decriminalisation or legalisation of prostitution or ' consensual sex work ' ( put in the UN terminology ), but Apne Aap, an Indian group of anti-traffic activists, claim they've got one and argue that with the legalisation in question, the demand for sex would go up, and that more demand for sex would lead to more traffic in girls. Such a line of argument, from the viewpoint of political economy, appears plain wrong and ridiculous, I'm afraid to say. To my way of thinking, more demand for sex ought to be offset by more voluntary prostitution, which in turn ought to lead to a good fall in trafficking sooner or later.
The legalisation or decriminalisation of prostitution should lead both to a growth in demand for sex and to a proportionate growth in the number of women entering on prostitution of their own free will. And with more women in the flesh trade, the demand for sex is bound, by laws of supply and demand, to fall, and a fall in demand for sex must, by the same laws, drag down the price of sex and for that reason, the profit from the brothel business too, with which prostitution, hence both the brothel business and the trafficking in females, should cease to be lucrative, as I see it. And the less lucrative it* turns, the more the influx of women into the flesh trade goes down, which fact should lead to the zero trafficking in the long run. [* i.e. prostitution or the brothel business or the trafficking trade ]

Prakash RP
21-Dec-2014 02:31 AM

Comment Very good article!

10-Nov-2014 02:06 AM

Comment NO sister,daughter and mother is meant to sell their body to survive in this world where people want to legalize prostitution,so, that their own family woman would be safe.

Debidas ray
09-Nov-2014 22:09 PM

Comment What is wrong in Prostitution? The political leaders are looting the country now and then , In courts the filling a case we the Advocates has to give bribe , any case the lawyers are forced to give money, otherwise the case will not be permitted in court, The taking bribe also a Prostitution, so first the judiciary must be clean hands then think of others Ass.
Anybody raise question regarding the judiciary corruption they will be charged under Contempt of Courts Act , and the advocate life will be ruined like any thing......Where is the justice in India? Shame to Arrest the Innocent women Under Prostitution/ PETA.....Shame to be an Indian..
When a Advocate involved in Bus burning Case and he was elevated as High court of Andhra Pradesh Judge and Now supreme court of india!!!!!!!!!!!!!
In nampally criminal court earlier a Judge arrested under curruption charges , even though the CMO and Superintendent clerks and peons take money , for copy application we have forced to give money other wise the file cann't be collected, Even Public Prosecutors put signature after taking 500 to 1000 depending on case otherwise the bail will be dismissed , so ......If you want to me to prove , please contact me nachiketh advocate9703500856

11-Sep-2014 14:26 PM

Comment This should be legalized.As the Government is not able to curb it properly and there should be sexual freedom in the country.It will restrict the no. of Rapes,extortion and sexual harassment in the country.Also it will help in restricting Human trafficking.After legalizing this trade, it will ensure that only self motivated persons are likely to join,not minors by forcefully or by threatening them.

Rohit vasudev
02-Aug-2012 11:46 AM

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