In a significant order recognising sex work as a “profession”, the Supreme Court has directed that police should neither interfere nor take criminal action against adult and consenting sex workers.
What did the Supreme Court say?
- Sex Work is a profession whose practitioners are entitled to dignity and equal protection under law.
- It is clear that the sex worker is an adult and is participating with consent, the police must refrain from interfering or taking any criminal action.
- The Bench ordered that sex workers should not be “arrested or penalised or harassed or victimised” whenever there is a raid on any brothel.
- Since voluntary sex work is not illegal and only running the brothel is unlawful.
- A child of a sex worker should not be separated from the mother merely on the ground that she is in the sex trade, the court held.
- Further, if a minor is found living in a brothel or with sex workers, it should not be presumed that the child was trafficked.
Sex work in India
- According to the Indian Penal Code (IPC), prostitution in its broader sense is not really illegal per se.
- But there are certain activities which constitute a major part of prostitution that are punishable under certain provisions of the act, which are: Soliciting prostitution services in public places, Carrying out prostitution activities in hotels, etc.
Reasons to decriminalize sex work
- Respects Human Rights And Dignity: A cornerstone of contemporary human rights is that all people are born free and equal in dignity and rights.
- Decriminalization Helps Guard Against Violence And Abuse: Sex work is not inherently violent; it is criminalization that places sex workers at greatest risk.
- Challenges Police Abuse And Violence: Where sex work is criminalized, police wield power over sex workers. Police threaten sex workers with arrest, public humiliation, and extortion.
- Improves Access To Justice: Laws that criminalize sex work cause sex workers to feel unsafe reporting crimes—including violence crimes and other abuses—because they fear prosecution, police surveillance, stigma, and discrimination.
- Decriminalization Challenges The Consequences Of Having A Criminal Record: In many countries, harsh and biased application of criminal law ensures that a large proportion of sex workers will have criminal records. Criminal records are often a source of stigma, and can drastically limit one’s future.
- Allows For Effective Responses To Trafficking: Trafficking is an egregious human rights violation involving coercion of individuals for sexual exploitation or forced labor. Sex workers can be natural allies in the fight against trafficking, and may be well placed to refer trafficking victims to appropriate services.
Protection against forceful sex work
- The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1986 is an amendment of the original act.
- Article 23 of the Indian Constitution, amended in 2014, includes the following provisions: Prohibition of human trafficking and forced labour
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