Thursday, 6 April 2017

Sex workers are also citizens of India

  • Prostitution, the world’s oldest profession continues to be riddled with all sorts of problems — from trafficking, diseases, violence, harassment etc. And even after the passage of so many years, little advances have been made for the betterment of sex workers. 
  • As far as laws are concerned, prostitution in India is not illegal per se. As in most countries, prostitution is a source of shame and falls into one of those grey areas of legality. The Suppression of Immoral Traffic Act (SITA) 1956 doesn't consider sex in exchange of money as prostitution. Prostitutes practicing their trade privately done individually and voluntarily is not illegal. A woman can use her body in exchange for material benefit, but cannot legally solicit customers in public. The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act 1986 is an amendment of the SITA, call girls can be imprisoned for a maximum of 6 months along with financial penalties if they are caught doing so. Clients can be imprisoned for a maximum of 3 months and pay fine as well. The government has put a powerful weapon in the hands of the police to extort money from both sex workers and clients who want to avoid charges.
  • For women in prostitution, it makes no sense to not be able to solicit. Despite the noble intentions of Indian lawmakers, the implementers of the very same law,  the police have harassed sex workers on charges of soliciting and enriched themselves by taking petty bribes in lieu of dropping criminal charges. In Mumbai between 1980 and 1987 the number of women rounded up for soliciting far exceeded the numbers of brothel keepers or pimps arrested under the same laws.
  • Brothels and pimps are banned, yet they somehow manage to coexist amongst businesses and even when there is a police unit in the vicinity.
  • Sex workers are not protected under normal labour laws, but they possess the right to rescue and rehabilitation if they desire and possess all the rights of other citizens.
  • United Nations estimated that human trafficking is US$ 32 billion industry worldwide, is the fastest-growing criminal industry in the world. With stakes so high, it’s an industry that’s hard to halt.
  • Since prostitution can't be eradicated legalizing at least provide safety to sex workers, free them from shame, public & police harassment for bribes, improve living conditions of hygiene etc, could consult doctors without hesitation reduce disease sufferings .
  • During the period of British rule, they set up comfort zones for British troops wishing to make young girls and women into sex tools to satisfy the British soldiers who frequently set up their own prostitution rings. 
  • The largest red light area of Asia is ‘Sonagachi', situated in Kolkata sheltering 11,000 sex workers. Some joined this profession by choice whereas few have been dumped forcefully or as a result of betrayal. Few of them were brought in by illegal means.
  • Kamathipura, initially known as Lal Bazaar, is Mumbai's oldest red-light district. It was first settled after 1795 with the construction of causeways that connected the erstwhile seven islands of Bombay. In 1992, Due to AIDS menace, police crackdown and real estate developers taking over the high-priced real estate, the numbers has dwindled to  below 1,600 in 2009, with many sex workers migrating to other areas.
  • India has the highest rate of HIV infections in the world, which is spreading most rapidly among married, heterosexual women. To enact legislation that will drive the virus further into the realm of illegality is not only an irresponsible act; it is sentencing millions to a life of greater stigma, discrimination and violence.
  • The consequences in the evaluation of the Swedish law that sought to eliminate trafficking by criminalizing the clients of sex workers. While sex workers were pushed off the streets, prostitution did not stop. In fact, trafficking increased, women were denied any legal mechanisms for redress, and tracking HIV infections became virtually impossible.
  • In 1997, there were an estimated two million female sex workers in the country. In 2007, presence of over 3 million female sex workers in India was reported. The number of prostitutes rose by 50% between 1997 and 2004.
  • Over 35% of them enters the trade before the age of 18 years. Surveys show there are an estimated 1.2 million children i.e. 40% are involved in prostitution. About 76% of the agents were female and 24% were males. Over 80% of the agents bring young women into the profession were known people and not traffickers: neighbors, relatives, etc.
  • No one takes up the profession of prostitution willingly and cheerfully. Most prostitutes are illiterate, poor & debt ridden, rape victims, broken marriages, cheated & dumped by boy friends, etc all pathetic stories. In most cases extreme poverty drives woman towards prostitution to support families, They live and operate in squalid conditions with the risk of contracting and spreading HIV & other diseases.
  • Human trafficking is a crime against humanity. Trafficking is a crime that takes place when a person is moved from one place to another against his or her will into a situation of exploitation. It involves an act of recruiting, transporting, transferring, harboring or receiving a person through use of force, coercion or other means, for the purpose of exploiting them. The consent of a victim of trafficking in persons to the intended exploitation is irrelevant irrespective of age. Greater demand for sex, the prostitution and trafficking will only increase. 
  • Most rape victims from poorer classes either commit suicide for fear of social rejection or take up prostitution for making living. It is a myth that sexual intercourse with a virgin or a minor will cure STI or prevent HIV. It only spreads the disease further. Victims of exploitation are not criminals. They are persons in need of care, protection, legal, medical and psychological assistance. 
  • Prostitution is a matter of choice, in most cases. The ill-educated rural migrants, enter India’s labour market in larger numbers. Most find low-paid or casual work. For a minority, selling sex is a relatively well-paid option.
  • Sex workers travel as far as possible to avoid the brunt of their family and acquaintances’ censure back home.
  • Women activists argue that clients also must undergo punishment. At present, clients don't come under the purview of the Act. If clients were to be punished, it would encourage underground sex work and that would act as a major stumbling block in checking AIDS.
  • Every sex worker wants prostitution to be legal. Prostitutes today hesitate to approach doctors. They dread police harassment for bribes. And they fear their landlords expelling them. Legalized and regulated industry could better stop forcible trafficking, including children, improve hygiene among workers and clients and limit the spread of HIV and other diseases.
  • Poverty, illiteracy and ignorance remain the most common factors for women to enter the sex trade, other factors have also emerged. New stimulating factors are a change in attitudes towards sex, migration, globalization, increase in hospitality industries and the desire for a physical relationship with multiple partners etc.
  • Today, Indian women are expected to conform to societal norms. Premarital sex is taboo and Bollywood movies tease but generally stop short of kissing. Yet the country's new-found economic affluence and expanding middle-class has also brought an insatiable appetite for the good things in life from designer clothes, to fast cars, to champagne dinners. With the changes in the economy and increased consumerism, the Indian woman is under pressure to conform to a highly capitalistic image which requires a lot of money to upkeep. If the society were to really allow their women to be free, they won't be forced to conform to such a rigid behaviour. Most high-end sex workers in India charge anywhere from Rs 10,000 to Rs 50,000 for an hour, but some charge much more.
  • Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal states together account for 26% of the total number of prostitutes in the country, but Delhi and Mumbai are said to be the preferred places of operation. Over 90% of the prostitutes are in the 15-35 age group and their average work life spans 15 years. Although majority of prostitutes are from lower castes, 40% were from the upper castes, which was a new trend. The trade is also spread across all religions.
  • Prostitutes operating on the street and brothels earn between 3,000 to 30,000 rupees per month, whereas call girls make 60,000-600,000 rupees.
  • Prostitutes want the sex industry legalized as they are the one who suffers the most without any rights. The benefits of legalizing prostitution are: will stop sex trafficking; will control the sex industry; will decrease clandestine, hidden, illegal and street prostitution; will protect the prostitutes as they will have rights; will have easy access to medical facilities. Recognizing prostitution as an economic activity, thus enabling women in India to obtain working permits as "sex workers". 
  • Most prostitutes prefer to work in secrecy. Only those sex workers who operate in red-light areas are making demands for legalization etc.
  • In 2009, Supreme Court has asked the government to consider legalizing prostitution if it is unable to curb it effectively. The sex workers have been operating in one way or the other and nowhere in the world have they been able to curb it by legislation, the judges observed. The court said legalizing prostitution would help in the monitoring of the trade, provide medical aid and rehabilitating sex workers. No politician is ready to champion the idea. BJP being a conservative party is not expected to provide its approval to sex trade, and prostitutes will remain in the shadows for the time being. 
  • In 2003, Union law minister Arun Jaitley said ''I wouldn't like to speak on the subject since I am not comfortable about the issue.'' Sleeping over the issue, however, solves no purpose. Ignoring prostitution does not mean that it will disappear.
  • It is time we acknowledged in India and elsewhere the fact that sex workers are like any other human beings. It's high time we listened to sex workers before actively destroying their livelihoods. They need protection but also have obligations. And the only way to uphold these rights and duties is through legalization. 
My View:
Trafficking is crime and prostitution is not. Prostitution is a flourishing economic enterprise in India and should be recognized as such. By according legitimacy to the sex-worker, millions of women who ply this trade to feed their families will be freed from the clutches of pimps, brothel-owners and cops. Legalising, prostitutes who live life on the edge everywhere, gains access to medical facilities which can control the spread of AIDS, not only among sex-workers themselves but also the customer, his wife and potential progeny. Finally, prostitutes will be spared of ignominy of being paraded on TV channels breaking news repeatedly, when ever caught during raids.

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