• Twinkle Joshi

Sex Work Is Work, Breaking the Stigma

India is a country of history and pride where we take values from gods, kings, queens, warriors and leaders. We boast of our benevolence and brotherhood. Yet we have declared one of the oldest professions, Prostitution, a sin, a black spot on our society, which we do not want to take charge of. The most ironic part of the problem is that the human race which treats prostitution as transgression is the one which is buying sex from it. The largest democracy in the world whose constitution ensures fundamental rights for everyone has forgotten 5 million people and looked away from their struggles of everyday life. Although, in India, the act of prostitution is legal under The Act of Suppression of Immoral Traffic in Women and Girls Act, 1956, yet in real life, it does not come into practice as IPC predates it and charges people under the offence of ‘public indecency.’

Prostitution exists all around the world and India is no exception. The idea of uprooting prostitution not only leads to high crime rates but also torments the lives of sex workers. An overly high moralistic approach towards it only leads the way to human trafficking as the victims see themselves as criminals under the law. The problem of trafficking women is very prominent, and not just that, according to The Times of India, 1.2 million children (below the age of 14) are involved in prostitution. Again, the institutionalized hypocrisy does not help them. The sex workers are an exploited group who is crushed by the maltreatment faced by the customers, pimps and brothel owners. They face corruption from the police, are disrespected by society and finally are neglected by their very own elected government. Adding on to that, due to unawareness and lack of exercising control over the customers both buyers and sellers of the service are facing a huge number of health problems. This contributes to the fact that India is second in line for HIV/AIDS cases after Africa. Moreover, lack of facilities, resources and inadequate support disables the sex workers to restructure their lives if they want out. Many sex workers have reported that they were denied any other jobs and reputed schools have even turned down admissions for their children. These situations leave the workers with no option and even when it comes to their children, without proper education and with the label of ‘Prostitute’s kid’ given by the society they end up being stuck in the same vicious cycle.

Legalization of Institutional Prostitution is the demand of the hour. Policy makers need to break the stigma and come into the limelight to address this everlasting issue. Legalizing sex work and regulating it will lead to multi-fold advantages. The social stigma attached to the profession will finally be off the shoulders of the sex workers. Given the support of the government, sex workers will have recourse against coercive pimps, traffickers or brothel owners. Also, to control the spread of HIV/AIDS in the red-light areas, legalization could be of great help. The prostitutes can be asked for registration and regular health check-ups should be arranged. If a prostitute is found to be HIV positive, the registration would be cancelled, and the person would be enrolled under the government’s rehabilitative programmes. And most importantly, the government can track the illegal prostitution and human trafficking of children. Finally, this legalization would lay the foundation of a more accepting job market for the workers and will provide alternative employment opportunities if they want to leave their profession.

Over the last decade India, has been in a tug of war on the issue of legalization of prostitution. Officials have claimed that creating a proper market for sex workers will glorify the profession and will influence the gullible young adults to be a part of it as it will provide them with easy money. Due to the measures taken, the position of women will be degraded and society will objectify them for a ‘commodity’ that they can buy and sell. Economists have claimed that due to the proper regulated market, the demand for prostitution would elevate as the easiness of availing these services will hike up. It will be considered as encouragement that would lead to ‘normalizing’ prostitution. Nevertheless, the arguments do not counter the injustice of blindsiding the lives of millions of people. Many countries such as Austria, Denmark, Germany and Netherlands have legalized prostitution without encountering any social repercussion. The most advanced countries have accepted that the rights of sex workers are not disposable and cannot be neglected.

India is in a position where its citizens are raising their stances for equal rights of all communities and there is no justification as to why sex workers should be left behind. Their hardships can only be resolved if government and society work in harmony to create a more inclusive society for them and legalizing prostitution is one stop solution for all these issues. There are undoubtedly two sides to any coin but we cannot violate the integrity of lives. The time for making such decisions is long due and we should unite to legalize prostitution.

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