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Legal Status Of Prostitution In India

What Is Prostitution, And How Are Prostitutes Defined?

Prostitution is a method of exploiting or abusing people sexually for monetary gain.[1] It is widely believed that most prostitutes are female, regardless of their gender. Often referred to as the world's oldest profession, it has existed since the inception of Indian society and has persisted to the extent that Asia's largest brothel, Sonagachi, Kolkata, is located in India.[2]

Prevalence Of Prostitution In India As A Profession

While prostitutes existed in ancient India in the form of impoverished women exploited by rulers, the British raj was instrumental in expanding the profession of prostitution in India. When we look at the Contagious Diseases Act of 1864, this becomes clear. The provisions of the act were as follows- the women that were suspected of prostitution were required to register with the police and were going through a medical examination.

The act gave police the authority to determine who was a prostitute. If the woman is diagnosed with a venereal disease, she will be confined to a 'lock hospital' until she is declared 'clean.'[3] The purpose of this act was to denigrate the prostitute's body as a repository for everything filthy and impure, rather than to prevent vice and immorality among its soldiers. The British soldiers posted in India were not only allowed but also encouraged to use young and attractive girls as prostitutes for their pleasure under this act. As a result, prostitution became a profession in the country.

The Legal Status Of Prostitution In India

The countries are divided into three categories in terms of prostitution:
  1. Where it is illegal to carry out prostitution
  2. Where prostitution is legal but with certain limitations and restrictions.
  3. Where prostitution is legal and has proper laws.

India falls under the second category where prostitution is legal but with certain limitations. There is an ambiguity when answering the question �Is prostitution legal in India?� because according to the Indian constitution, prostitution is not completely illegal because it is nowhere mentioned that a person practicing prostitution is to be punished by law but it is written clearly about a few activities related to prostitution that are punishable by law such as running brothels, soliciting, trafficking, and pimping under the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, (1956).

The act defines prostitution as the sexual exploitation or abuse of persons for commercial purposes and brothel as any place which is used for purposes of sexual exploitation or abuse for commercial purposes. The act does not criminalize prostitution or prostitutes per se, but mostly punishes acts by third parties facilitating prostitution like brothel-keeping, living off earnings, and procuring, even where sex work is not coerced.[4]

It is vague and the laws related to prostitution reflect duality as a whole. On one hand, the act makes it illegal to own and manage a brothel even prescribing punishments and fine for the same but on the other hand, makes it legal for a person to be a prostitute. It is as funny as if you are allowed to be a chef but cannot work in a restaurant. Now, the question of concern here is that how are the prostitutes in India carrying out their business?

Well, the answer keyword here is �underground� or in simple words- away from public eyes. The Indian society would never be ready to accept the existence of a brothel in their locality and having a sex worker live around them is way difficult for them to digest.

The Crack In The Functionality Of The Profession

In India, there are currently 2.8 million sex workers, with 35.47 percent of them starting their careers before the age of 18. In India, minors account for a quarter of all prostitutes. Every day, about 200 Indian girls and women are forced into prostitution, with 80% of them doing so against their will. Over 18 million (estimated) people in India live in modern slavery[5]. Every 8 minutes, a child goes missing in India.[6] Between 2013-2015, 198015 children went missing in India, of which 140769 (71%) have not been traced.[7] Every day, about 200 girls and women in India enter prostitution - 80% of them against their will.[8]

A major problem arises for the sex workers in India, that is, sexually transmitted diseases. It is extremely difficult to eradicate the problem of AIDS in a country like India, where the majority of people engage in unprotected sex with prostitutes. In the past, the AIDS epidemic in India was first detected among sex workers and their clients, before spreading to other sectors of society.

Crimes Against Sex Workers

The Pan India sex worker survey finds that 37% of women had been physically abused by the police and a total of 51% of the women said they had been verbally abused by law enforcement officers. Women were forced to pay bribes to the police in 22 percent of cases.[9].

This situation is made worse by the fact that sex work is misunderstood as criminal activity or is perceived as such by law enforcement, forcing the �industry' underground in India. When sex workers approach the police after being beaten or abused by private parties, the police routinely deny their right to recourse, refusing to file First Information Reports or investigate the acts of violence and the social stigma makes it nearly impossible for them to seek legal protection when they are subjected to violence or abuse. On the contrary, these provisions in the law allow for police harassment and extortion of sex workers.

Effects Of Absolute Legalization Of Prostitution In India

When Dr. Vargeshwari Deswal, a women's rights activist and senior faculty member at Delhi University, says that if something can't be eliminated, it's better to regulate it, she gives us an excellent option and a solution with perfect reasoning. Yes, that is what should be done; the key is regulation. Making proper laws regarding this profession would resolve all issues. Let's break it down by field:
  1. Management of brothels:
    The government should bring all of them under its control and keep a record of them by registering them under the law, ensuring that they are located away from residential areas, schools, worship places, and other areas where society is hostile to this profession
  2. Prostitutes' Records:
    Human trafficking is a serious concern in India, and it is becoming more prevalent in the prostitution industry. According to campaigners, 16 million women and girls in India are victims of sex trafficking out of a total of 20 million commercial prostitutes. Every year, thousands of children, mostly from low-income families, are lured or abducted by human traffickers and sold to pimps and brothels, where they are forced into sexual slavery.

    The advantage of legalizing prostitution in India is that we will at least have a history of sex workers. Now, if the government starts regulating how many prostitutes work in a brothel, where they come from, and whether or not they are forced to do so, it will have a huge impact because the owners of these brothels will have to run their businesses like any other business in India, adhering to the rules and regulations.
  3. Rehab Centers:
    Nearly 7,000 sex workers in Sonagachi, Kolkata's largest red-light district, admitted that they have no other way of surviving. (Krishnan, et al., 2016). Poverty and unemployment are the root causes of someone engaging in this profession. Women from remote areas have been known to fall prey to unscrupulous intermediaries who promise them decent job opportunities before selling them as sex workers. Poverty is the primary motivator for needy and powerless women to turn to prostitution.

    Due to a lack of job opportunities, women were forced to rely on illegal transactions to supplement their income. After being raped, approximately 6% of the women turned to prostitution.

    Survivors of sexual assault are frequently victimized by the shame and stigma imposed on them by a society that blames them for having been raped. In some cases, not only society but also their family members have refused to accept them. Building a rehabilitation center for those who entered this profession by force rather than choice would be extremely beneficial to these individuals.
  4. Enacting legislation to combat crime against sex workers:
    Fundamental rights are available to every citizen of India, according to our Indian Constitution, and sex workers, as citizens, are entitled to these rights. A prostitute has the right to life under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution but the things stated are quite different from the things that happen so the question is that what happens if a sex worker isn't paid for her services by a particular client? What if he or she is harmed?

    Are there any laws in place to help this segment of the population? The answer is no. How can we expect someone's basic fundamental rights to be protected if we don't allow them to practice their profession legally? Because they are afraid of harassment, many of these workers do not go to the police and are unable to report any crimes committed against them. Males who are designated as clients or customers are exploited.

    The most obvious fate for these girls and women is pimps. These people are always exploited by the police and other law enforcement agencies. They not only take money from them, but they also physically abuse them.
  5. Medical care:
    India's government estimates that there are three million sex workers in the country. The majority of them are not only HIV-positive but also suffer from a variety of other illnesses. They do not have adequate access to medical care. �It's probably unthinkable for them to be referred to a specialist. Proper legalization of the profession would aid in its acceptance by society, and these people would not hesitate to obtain the same benefits that any other citizen would.

It is critical to treat the sex industry as any other industry and to provide it with legal protections. The practical implications of legalizing the profession would be beneficial to both sex workers and society as a whole. Because many criminals see prostitutes and their customers as attractive targets for robbery, fraud, rape, or other criminal acts, keeping prostitution illegal contributes to crime.

The criminals recognize that such people are unlikely to report the crimes to the police because the victims would have to admit they were engaged in illegal prostitution at the time of the attacks; however, if it is legal, they will easily report it to the police. Legalizing prostitution and the sex industry will end sex trafficking, regulate the sex industry, reduce clandestine, hidden, illegal, and street prostitution, and protect prostitution women by giving them rights.

Women in prostitution systems want the sex industry to be legalized. After all, they are the ones who suffer the most because they have no rights. Recognizing prostitution as a legitimate economic activity, allowing Indian women to work as "sex workers." For the acceptance of sex work as "work" and the treatment of the workers as any other citizen of India, these solutions require the cooperation of both our society and the government.

  1. Prostitution. Merriam-Webster, 2021. Web. 8 May 2021
  3. National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine,
  4. the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, (1956)
  5. Global Slavery Index, 2016
  6. National Crime Records Bureau
  7. Ministry of Home Affairs
  8. CEDPA and PRIDE, 1997
  9. National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine,

    Award Winning Article Is Written By: Ms.Srishti Srivastava
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