This has been a burning question for many as to whether prostitution should be legalized in India. There is no common consensus even amongst the Women’s Rights Activists on this as a large part of them are opposed to and appalled by the idea of legalizing an activity that basically treats a woman as a commodity, whereas the other part is more concerned about the working condition of the sex-workers in India. Currently in India, the act of prostitution (the exchange of sexual favours for money) itself is not illegal. However, activities like pimping, owning a brothel, or even getting engaged in prostitution in a hotel is illegal. It is legal only if carried out in one’s own residence or in that of the prostitute.
Prostitution..wtf! I am a common man
For a common man having nothing to do whatsoever with prostitution, it’s impossible to even entertain the idea that prostitution could ever be a career choice. The colloquial term for a prostitute is the worst insult that anyone can use on a woman. If a woman ever willingly chooses to walk down this path, she is deemed a characterless women. Her family will not only shun her and refuse to acknowledge her, but in worse case scenarios could probably try to kill her for bringing shame. Apparently, the idea of legalizing prostitution would not sit well with the ‘civilized’ and ‘cultured’ members of the society. The concerns of Women’s Rights Activists over this issue are however different. In a country like India, rarely a woman on her own accord chooses this line of work unless forced by dire conditions. Girls in most brothels are usually victims of human trafficking. According to National Crime Records Bureau, girls and women make up 76% of human trafficking cases over the nation. Most of these girls are minors sold by either members of their family who couldn’t afford to raise them or who were fooled into believing that they were going to be employed as domestic workers. It is feared that legalizing prostitution would create a loophole that would allow traffickers and pimps to go spot free and would actually lead to an increase in the cases of human trafficking.
Can you just ignore it?
While these concerns are indeed valid and need to be kept in mind if and when we decide to come up with a framework to legalize prostitution, we need to remember that there are already millions of women engaged in this occupation who face innumerable risks on a daily basis. In cases where these women face physical violence and rape, they have no access to legal counsel as they face the fear of persecution by law. Their living conditions and dismal hygienic working conditions leaves them open to the risk of infection. Most of these women have grown accustomed to a particular way of income and it’s easier said than done to switch profession. There are crores of such women living in the red-light areas of India. Should the activists, the citizens, the law and the government not look into welfare of these women?
An example can be taken of Sweden where women forced into prostitution can access and demand legal protection without the fear of persecution. They have programmes facilitating the rehabilitation of such women into normal society and help them with housing, employment, medical issues and drug dependency. Another example can be taken of Queensland where sex workers are legally employed and pay taxes. These brothels are regularly inspected by government officials to ensure proper maintenance of health and security standards. Clients are allowed to have sex in the brothel itself, that too after they pass the tests for STI’s and personal hygiene. Each room has to compulsorily have a distress button within reach of every sex worker if they face any aggressive or non-compliant client.
Prostitution has been one of the oldest occupations in the world, and it will continue flourishing whether legalized or not. The only catch is that women in this occupation will continue to be victimized unless the Government steps in and takes measures to provide security and protect their rights.