Sex workers not to be treated like criminals anymore
Incidents of dowry, domestic violence and sati easily grab the headlines…and these are usually the focus of the legislative reform. Therefore it was good to read that the ministry of women and child development (WCD) has planned to bring about legislative reform in the law concerning commercial sex workers. An amendment in the Immoral Traffic Prevention Act of 1956, and Prevention of Money Laundering Act 2002 will mean that sex workers will not be treated like criminals.
No, prostitution is not going to get legal, but sex workers will be looked upon sympathetically, and treated as victims. But the pimps, customers, brothel owners and those who traffic women will feel the heat of the law. The government arrived at this formula as a compromise between the harshness of the present law in India and the soft approach taken by many developed countries, where prostitution is legal.
How does the world treat its prostitutes?
Prostitution is legal in Netherlands and Germany and so are brothels. In the Netherlands, the minimum age for prostitutes is 18 (16 for clients), although the age of consent for sex otherwise is 16. Pimping is illegal. In Germany, prostitution is legal as well and the minimum age for prostitutes and their clients is 16, but a girl under the age of 18 cannot be admitted into a brothel. Pimping is illegal.
In the UK, prostitution is not illegal, but street prostitution, brothels and pimping are all illegal. In most of America prostitution is illegal, and in Canada although prostitution itself is legal, pimping, negotiating in a public place and other such activities are illegal.
In Turkey, only street prostitution is illegal, and prostitutes can operate otherwise, with a licence.
Interestingly, in Thailand, prostitution is technically illegal. However, as the law turns a blind eye to prostitution, people often assume that it’s legal. The fact that certain ‘special services’ are legal helps those in the industry.
In an overwhelming majority of countries where prostitution is legal, pimping is not and this helps prevent the exploitation of women.
So what’s the Indian situation?
It is believed that a very high percentage of prostitutes in India are coerced into prostitution, due to the poverty in the country. They are often sold by their own relatives when they are barely in their teens or get into it because they face starvation. Also, many women in destitute ‘homes’ are forced into selling themselves for return ‘favors’.
An overwhelming number of women in India who enter this trade are victims and often become sex slaves. Why, out of nearly three million sex workers in India, 40 per cent are below the age of 18!
Ofcourse, human trafficking is a problem the world over, whether prostitution is legal or not, but poor countries often land up being the suppliers. The constant movement of these young girls, who enter the profession at 12-15 of years of age and are shunted from brothel to brothel, country to country, is thought to be a factor in spreading the AIDS virus.
Prostitutes have always been at the receiving end
The new law will not stop the trafficking and nor will it go to the root cause of this problem…but hopefully it will ensure that prostitutes do not face harassment at the hands of the police. A study by eminent sociologist Jean D’Cunha in Mumbai found that:
…the number of prostitute women arrested was disproportionately greater than the number of pimps, procurers and brothel-keepers arrested under the same laws…furthermore, the penalties imposed on prostitutes were far greater than the penalties imposed on the brothel-keepers or pimps.
This happens because brothel-keepers have a nexus with politicians and the police, and and prefer to let the girls bear the brunt of the law.
It is certainly time that the law became tough with the real criminals. Those who live off the earnings of prostitutes.
(Photo copyrighted to me)
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