By Sruthi Sadhasivam
The plight of the sex workers in the time of the covid pandemic is extremely distressing. They have lost their livelihood and are finding it difficult to make ends meet. They are exposed to domestic violence from alcoholic partners and are finding it difficult to pay rent for accommodation. Lack of accessibility to vaccines coupled with vaccine hesitancy makes their state more precarious. Given their dangerous and difficult predicament, it becomes essential to discuss on the rights of these sex workers.
The immoral traffic prevention act 1956, criminalises running a brothel, luring, and soliciting a person into prostitution and sexual exploitation but does not literally criminalise prostitution or prostitutes. Section 2(f) of The Immoral Trafficking Act (1956) defines prostitution as sexual exploitation of people for any business or monetary purpose. This means prostitution is very much legal in India if its voluntary and is between consenting adults, though Section 7 of the Immoral Trafficking Act penalizes prostitution if carried out in a public place. Prostitutes can also be punished for seducing or soliciting a person according to Section 8 of the Act.
SHOULD PROSTITUTION BE LEGALISED?
Every individual has the right to his/her body. Legalisation of voluntary sex work is the highest manifestation of body autonomy. As long as sex work happens between two consensual adults, it is completely acceptable.
But by criminalising forced sex work, have we achieved all characteristics of an ideal state? Have all problems of sexual exploitation, human trafficking, child sexual abuse come to a standstill?
Criminalising prostitution is not a solution but rather is a huge blunder on part of the state as it can further enhance crime rate in the country. Prostitutes due to their nature of work might get access to vital information regarding child sexual abuse, illegal drug trade or human trafficking cases but due to stigma attached to prostitution and criminalisation of their work, they might feel hesitant and fearful of persecution and thereby not report any crime. Given the lapse of legal protection, sex workers might not be able to access any kind of basic amenities such as healthcare, food, or sanitation facilities, they will be excluded from all government schemes, there will be a rise in HIV and aids cases, high rate of human trafficking, pimping, sexual exploitation and rape. Most of them have no access to education or vocational training.
Sex workers are easily prone to sexually transmitted diseases and due to lack of awareness and as a result of fear of arrest they might not be able to seek justice for the injustice meted out to them.
Does all this mean we must allow prostitution that happens in the guise of sex work?
Is satiating other’s sexual needs a job? Even if it happens between two consensual adults, at the end of the day it is not done out of love rather the whole process of attaining sexual pleasure is monetised. Isn’t sexual feeling natural, how can it be artificially or forcibly induced for earning money? This only indicates that the person is in such a grave helpless state that he/she/they even go to the extent of selling themselves to strangers to fulfil their day to day needs such as food, clothing and shelter.
Can one feel like having sex with anyone only because that person is offering money? Isn’t sex a beautiful feeling that emanates out of love and attraction towards a person rather than a mere economic transaction? It takes us to a vital question- are people taking to this to handle their state of penury or to really enhance the morale of their clients through their services.
By labelling prostitution as sex work are we trying to encourage the populace to take this up as a profession? If its going to be deemed as a dignified profession and say it is going to be legalised by the government, what are the skills required for this job, is there any qualifications necessary to take this up as work or is there any internship opportunities available for freshers on this regard? On what basis does prostitution or cuddling for that matter, qualify as a job?
Aren’t we reinforcing the cynic and sexist notion of sexual objectification of women by labelling prostitution as sex work? Even if sex happens between two consensual adults and there are laws that talk about consent and boundaries, no one can predict or ensure the safety of the sex worker inside a bedroom.
Laws can easily be violated, and physical, psychological, or emotional health of the sex workers is always in jeopardy in this sphere. Despite various judgements upholding the right to life of prostitutes, they are being killed, they are prevented from exercising their right to choose in selecting their clients and are duped off their respected pay as well.
Stigma towards prostitutes need to be eradicated as people take to it due to extreme poverty and thereby in a way is forced. It is used as an instrument of last resort for survival. Thereby the rights of prostitutes need to be protected while sex trade need to be prohibited in all forms.
Right to prostitution is violation of right to life and to live with dignity. The international labour organisation considers so called sex work as selling sex under distress and does not list it under the purview of decent work. This is because engaging frequently in such activities can cause bodily harm. By legalising the sex trade, India might turn into a popular sex tourism destination due to the availability of cheap sex and due to legal loopholes, it becomes easy to exploit vulnerable women and children and lure them into prostitution.
Its essential to include the children of prostitutes into the mainstream by them providing with educational opportunities. Regularising prostitution will also help create awareness about sexual hygiene among the sex workers. Government in each state must have statistical data or census of sex workers and understand their needs to cater to them. Bank accounts and insurance cover must be introduced to protect the wellbeing of the prostitutes. This would help break the cycle of exploitation, ensure better living conditions, and completely help end this brutal trade.