The evidence of the existence of sex work dates back to the Vedic period. However, the
institution of marriage had led to the seeking of sex for pleasure outside the ties of marriage
which eventually developed into an informal industry. Prostitution is one of the topics that
are not freely spoken about in the society even today.
There is a lot of stigma surrounding this
topic as it is highly frowned upon. This leads to high amounts of exploitation and violence
towards sex workers. The legal system of India has tried to make a few provisions to help sex
workers deal with the problems that they face but are they really helpful or have most of the
problems that they face not really been addressed while making provisions to take attention
away from the inefficiency of law in general in guaranteeing them their rights.
deals with the problems that they face while also analysing the effect of this on them while
also exploring a few solutions that can possibly help them in their situation. 1
It is evident that the Indian courts have already rendered several decisions in favour of sex
workers. In 2011, the Supreme Court ruled in Budhadev Karmaskar v. State of West Bengal
that sex workers have a right to dignity under Article 21 of the Constitution, which protects
the right to life and a means of subsistence.
According to the Calcutta High Court, there must
be strong proof that a sex worker who was exploited for commercial sex was a "co-
conspirator" in the offence before she may be tried as an accused under the ITPA. Three
women who had been imprisoned for working in prostitution were given their freedom
immediately by the Bombay High Court in September 2020.
The court ruled that prostitution
was not a crime and that an adult woman had the right to choose her career.
Now, in 2022, a three-judge led by Justice L. Nageswara Rao said Supreme Court panel
issued a landmark decision that recognised the profession of sex work and said that those
who engage in it are entitled to respect and equal protection under the law. The supreme court
clarified that "voluntary" sex labour was not against the law.
When a sex worker reports an
offence, the police must take it seriously and follow the law. When a brothel is raided, the sex
workers involved should not be arrested. No child of a sex worker should be separated from
the mother simply because she is in the sex trade. The police should treat all sex workers with
dignity and should not abuse them. 2
The Rigveda, the oldest literary work in India, contains the earliest allusion to prostitution.
We learn about Jara and Jatini, a married spouse's male and female illegal lovers. The regular
payment for favours obtained set this illicit lover apart from the professional prostitute or her
customer. Though it is hard to distinguish whether sexual favours were performed for lust or
to obtain gifts and favours, some elements of prostitution can be observed.
extramarital love may have been unpaid and voluntary, there is a chance that the male partner
may have viewed it as a form of service for which he was required to provide some sort of
payment. However, because it was limited to a single individual, it was only a temporary
arrangement and not recognised as a career. Such completely momentary partnerships with
no enduring commitment or duty were described by the later Pali term muhtittia (lasting for
an instant) or its Sanskrit equivalent muhturtika. Depending on the partner's mindset, such
relationships could have been either voluntary or professional.
Gradually, women emerged who were frequently pressured to turn to prostitution as a
career because they could not find suitable husbands, were without brothers or fathers, were
prematurely widowed, had unhappy marriages, or were subject to other social pressures. This
was especially true if these women had been violated, kidnapped, or forcibly enjoyed and
were thus denied an honourable status in society, or had been given away as gifts at religious
or secular events.
The same kind of respect and economic security was not granted to
prostitutes then. Women who usually were widowed, old or couldn't find a suitable husband
became prostitutes to support themselves. As the institution of marriage grew, women were
considered the property of their husbands. The terms "sadizarani" or "samranya" (common)
emerged, which are synonyms for "prostitute," indicating that she is not a single man's private
The dissolution of tribal societies and the emergence of joined families barred
women's mobility and general freedom. Women were now considered the possession of the
man they married. Other men wouldn't trespass on another man's private property so started
seeking pleasure outside which gave rise to the institution of prostitution. 3
India has long practised prostitution as a vocation. In reality, sex workers are mentioned as
"apsaras" in a number of Hindu mythological references.
The devdasi system, which was
prominent among Hindus throughout the pre-colonial era, required them to give their female
child away as a symbol of their devotion to God. Devdasi, which literally translates as
"devoted to the deity," refers to people who were married to the god and were therefore
exempt from having to wed anybody else.
They were highly talented artists who had achieved
sexual liberation, particularly in classical dance and music. However, exploitation and
suppression were brought about by colonialism. The basics of sexual emancipation,
femininity, art, and culture were transformed by the British into devotion, bhakti, and other
religious practises. Additionally, as feudalism and colonialism declined, these women began
to experience abuse at the hands of temple priests. Consequently, they become susceptible to
both poverty and sexual exploitation. This is among the earliest types of prostitution still
practised in India.
Sex workers face many problems in the world even today. They are not treated like a human
being and their basic human rights are often violated. Prostitution is seen as an immoral job
and is looked down upon. The irony lies in the fact that most of the people who avail of these
services are the ones who mostly violate the basic rights of sex rights. This can be seen as sex
workers face a lot of violence and humiliation while they work.
There are many cases where
sex workers have gone to police stations to lodge complaints but were not given justice and
they were not given any importance. Some of the other problems they face are lack of health
care facilities, violence, financial exploitation, sexual abuse, sex trafficking, stigmatization
However sex workers aren't the only ones who face problems due to their
profession, children and family of these sex workers are often treated badly. Children of sex
workers face many problems as they are often denied their right to education due to their
parent's jobs or are treated inhumanly in schools which often leads to these kids dropping out.
Indian law has also failed to protect this vulnerable group from abuse and exploitation.
main law dealing with people in sex work is the Immoral Trafficking
(Prevention) Act (ITPA) of 1986 which seeks to prevent the trafficking of persons in India
and prohibits most outward manifestations of sex work, including brothel operating and
public solicitation. It also allows for the eviction of sex workers from their residences in the
name of "public interest."
This law has however not addressed nor understood the majority of
the other problems that are faced by sex workers every day and in turn, hurt the sex workers
even more as this law is highly misused. Most parts of this act are ambiguous which leads to
the misuse of said act. Police officers often falsely accuse and lodge complaints against sex
workers and bribes or free sex is demanded.
International anti-trafficking organisations and Indian law enforcement officials have used
"rescue and restore" missions as a strategy. These "rescue" programmes for trafficked and
underage sex workers are sometimes successful, but always at the expense of the community
of sex workers. The provisions governing raids and rescue make no distinction between
adults and children.
In the ITPA, there are offences such as detaining a person "with or
without his consent, "premises where prostitution is practised or where a person is taken
"either with or without his consent "in order to engage in prostitution An adult's consent or
lack thereof is the crucial factor in crimes such as kidnapping or illegal confinement that
determines whether a criminal act is to be labelled. However this strategy as been seen to be
not so effective not working in its aim to help victims of sex trafficking. Some of these
'rescued' girls feel that they have been 'arrested' as they were kept confined.
take advantage of the high amount of stigma present around the topic of prostitution.
Stigmatization is viewed as a major barrier to women in sex work exercising their rights.
Women in sex work have been denied safety, proper healthcare, education, and, most
importantly, the right to practise the business of making money from sex as a result of this
Sex workers often face violence and their safety is often at risk. however the perpetrators of
violence often have mindsets where they think it is okay to inflict harm upon sex workers as
they feel that the job of these people is morally wrong thus they think it justifies violence that
they experience. However this group is extremely vulnerable as even the protectors of justice
often turn a blind eye towards the violence that they face.
Not only do they face the above problems but they are also stuck in this profession as it is
hard for them to earn money a different, more 'dignified' way. They are often denied their
right to education, keeping them and the generation to come, stuck in this cycle of
humiliation, violence and exploitation. Education institutions discriminate against them and
their children and deny them their basic rights.
They also are often denied healthcare facilities due to their job. They are also not given sex
education which leads to a lot of misinformation and them not being educated on how to have
safe sex. This can lead to transmission of sexually transmitted diseases. They are also looked
down upon when they visit healthcare centres. It is well documented that sex workers are
often forced to take HIV tests against their wishes, this shows us a larger problem related to
the stigma around sex workers, they are seen as transmitters of STD's.
Most of the problems that sex workers face are directly or indirectly related to the stigma
The legalisation of prostitution will shield young people from sexual exploitation.
Worldwide, there are over ten million children who are forced into prostitution. Although
child prostitution is a sad reality in practically all nations, it is particularly bad in Asia and
South America. Strict rules in the sector can guarantee that minors are not allowed to use the
Regulated health check-ups of the sex workers will ensure the curbing of the sexual
transmitted diseases specially, AIDS which is just so common among the sex workers.
Adequate birth controls will ensure unwanted pregnancies and curbing of other health
hazards. Regular health check-ups and strict guidelines will ensure the cleaner and hygienic
working conditions. A compulsory provision of condoms will also, be beneficial for the sex
workers and the customers both.
Prostitution's legalisation will improve and modernise the system. When middlemen and
pimps are eliminated from the system, sex workers will be able to earn more money, and the
criminal and exploitative elements will be much diminished. As people turn to a more
convenient and legal option to satiate their sexual cravings, it will lessen sexual violence,
rapes, and other forms of sexual assault.
One region that had a 149% surge in rape rates after
the closure of brothels is Queensland. Get forced prostitution out of society
In India, the prostitution industry is estimated to be worth 8.4 billion dollars. The government
will benefit from the procedure' legalisation and taxation because of it.
Workers' rights will be safeguarded. The rights of a citizen and a worker should be accorded
to sex workers even though they are not covered by standard labour regulations.
The fact that most of the problems that sex workers face on a day to day basis due to the
stigma around prostitution shows us that the mentality of the society is what causes them
harm. They are not given the basic level of respect while also denying them their most basic
rights of safety, health, education etc.
Something that can be done to deal with this problem is formalisation of this job. This can
lead to more job security, health insurance and the other benefits that come with joining
formal sector of employment. This can also help with slowly removing the stigma around se
work and sex workers.
This will result in solving most of the problems that they face on a day
to day basis. People will stop inflicting harm on them as they now will realise that there
would be consequences, healthcare would be more readily available to them, there would be
safer work conditions, it will ensure that there is less financial exploitation ect. They would
get all the benefits that service workers in the formal sector receive which is what they
deserve as they do provide an important service to the society.
Most for the problems that they face also shows the inefficiency of not just the Indian Legal
system but also of enforcers of law and protectors of the people (police). 4
In a society where prostitution has a long history and is still a thriving industry, turning a
blind eye to it and acting as if the system and its defects don't exist would be foolish. Making
sex work legal and decriminalising it with appropriate rules and regulations will provide
improved working conditions, health security, and protection for sex workers. 5
Additionally, it will be a positive move for society as a whole, eradicating numerous societal
ills like child prostitution, rape, etc. Sex trade is a very real phenomenon in our nation, and by
accepting it as a genuine profession with a set of guidelines and protections, all parties
involved can be assured of receiving advantages. The development of a fairer, more inclusive
legal system and the application of all available safeguards can only benefit society.