Prostitution in India – Issues, Viability, and It’s Legality

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Prostitution is the most brutal manifestation of communities in which women are being driven to sell their bodies as a means of living. These women are expected to satisfy the unquenchable thirst of human desire. Prostitution means providing sex work in exchange for money. It does not only indicate sexual gratification, but also other accompanying acts such as customer solicitation, brothel management, pimping or dealing with prostitutes, sex trafficking and other activities that facilitate prostitution, thereby encouraging the growth of the sex industry. As indicated in the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956, ‘prostitution’ means the sexual exploitation or manpower of persons for business purposes. The word prostitution is derived from the word ‘prostituere’, which means that it is publicly exposed and, as a word, may well be defined as promiscuous discontent for gain. Ohio Law states, “Prostitution shall be deemed to include offering or receiving sexual intercourse for hire by the body and shall also be construed to include offering or receiving the body for uncompensated sexual intercourse without discrimination.”  Prostitution in India.

In today’s globalized world of human resources, the world has consistently condemned this gross human resource violation and urged the government to take effective action against it. At present, India has no stand as to legality of prostitution. Essentially, this work seeks to focus on the best approach to controlling the issue of legalizing prostitution in India. Giving it a legal mandate will lead to a better and more secure society for women.  Although our constitution guarantees the right to equality under Article 14, there are times and few professions where equality does not really exist. Women who work as prostitutes are deprived of their rights and do so to earn a living. Prostitutes should be made aware of their rights and interests, education, health, freedom to choose or deny their regular medical check-ups, financial assistance, compensation for injury and other benefits. They should also be provided with a platform that would give them justice in the event of any gross violation.

Legal status of Prostitution in India

Female prostitution is perhaps the oldest profession in the world. Since time immemorial, prostitution has been part of our society. In India, prostitution has a long history of ideals from ancient times to the 19th century in British India, and today is widely perceived as a social reality. In India, it has taken the path of devotion. Anciently, the Devadasi system existed, where it was a prevalent practice among the Hindus to contribute their female child to the temple dance and worship of God. However, with lessening feudalism, these so-called Devadasis lost their protectors and were mishandled by the priests of the shrine. This was the first form of prostitution. This practice continued to flourish in the British era, when these outsiders constrained the traditional textile industry, the arms industry, etc, and these communities had to turn into prostitution for their livelihoods.

The laws regulating sex work in India was found in the 1950 Indian Constitution; the 1860 Indian Penal Code, and the 1956 Immoral Traffic Act (Prevention). The Constitution in addition to the provisions on equal treatment and freedom of association, the Right to Life and Personal Liberty guarantees the prohibition of human trafficking and forced labour, ensures the denial of human trafficking and co-trafficking. The law regulating prostitution in India is the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act which is an addition to the primary law enacted in 1950 known as the Immoral Traffic (Suppression) Act in 1986. The Act makes pimping and various exercises guilty, giving prostitution a business angle that is likely to exploit the prostitute ‘s person. The Act forbids flesh trade but does not ban prostitution per se. It is believed that a woman or girl is needed to demonstrate that she has offered her body for hire, for sexual intercourse to prove prostitution. If a woman makes voluntary and independent use of her body attributes, she goes unpunished. Section 3 of the Act offers a wider description of brothels which would make it harder for brothel keepers to sue. Section 9 of the Act provides greater punishment for prostitution for persons who cause, assist, or entice the seduction of women and girls over whom they have care and custody. Under this act, the centre government has powers to authorize police officers to detain without warrant at any place where this crime is suspected of being committed and to rescue a person coerced into this career. This act also has provisions for the safe custody of children to have protective and corrective homes but living conditions of protective homes have been found to be inhuman and degrading.

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Prostitution – should it be Legalized?

Prostitution is considered the oldest profession that has existed in society since time immemorial. In this profession, the majority of prostitutes are due to poverty. There are women who are willing to join this profession, while there are others who have been trafficked and forced into prostitution. It can be estimated that as many as 10 million children are involved in prostitution worldwide according to findings from different studies conducted globally. In all countries, child prostitution exists regardless of their level of economic development, the problem is observed in its severity in Asia.


By legalising, we can ensure the elimination of minors from the trade and taking strict steps to regulate it, thereby securing their rights, and ensuring their health. It will require routine medical tests on sex workers and the availability of appropriate birth control devices to reduce the risk of transmission of sexual diseases from workers to customers and vice-versa. It will encourage better working environments and therefore make the process healthier and safer, which will help all parties involved as well as the societies. In countries like Singapore, where prostitution is legalised, Condoms and shower facilities are given to each client before and after the session. Prostitutes are expected to have up-to-date health cards.  When a prostitute is tested positively with any sexually transmitted disease or infection it is required to stop providing services immediately. The brothels have introduced numerous steps to guarantee health and security of both the parties. Another main logic behind implementing the law is that with a legal and simpler solution available, people who want to indulge their sexual desires will turn to prostitution for the same purpose instead of committing horrific crimes like rapes. When brothels were abolished in 1959, Queensland witnessed a rape rate rise of 149 per cent. When prostitution is legalized and supervised, government will save unnecessary spending on police, prisons, etc., and this will make it easier to devote police resources to bigger problems. Legalising can ease the eradication of sex racquet operations, disguised prostitution and street prostitution, sex worker abuse, etc. The government can also provide these prostitutes with training and basic education so they can find other ways of earning money and sustaining their livelihood. Lastly, every individual has the right to use his or her body at will. To portray it as morally wrong now represents anything but a skewed system of values. If a person finds prostitution wrong, staying away from it is absolutely acceptable to them. No one has the right to bully a person into adhering to the moral values of someone else. Safety residences shall be established for those sex workers who have lost their livelihood, or those who have been sold into slavery but no longer want that lifestyle.

All this would only be possible in a democratic country if the people within the society accept it and promise to follow by abiding the rules, instead, in our society will never accept legalization of prostitution, they believe that it will hinder their lives in society. The same respect that is offered to people in other professions cannot be accorded to prostitutes as they have a notion that prostitutes do not deserve the respect they are entitled to. In India, prostitution is usually looked down due to the nature of the profession, with diverse societal ingredients. Sex workers live in their own formed community. Through study, it can be observed that the legalization of prostitution will help both the men, prostitutes, and the state. Though prostitution has occurred in our country for many years, they are still looked down in our society. Prostitution in India is considered a taboo and is not discussed freely and is frequently frowned upon. That being said, for its role in weakening the institution of marriage, sexually transmitted diseases, abduction of girl children, isolation of sex workers from society, physical and mental trauma, etc., it poses a major threat to the fabric of Indian society. There are reportedly around 38,000 prostitutes in Delhi. In Mumbai, the situation is more depressing. Thus, an emerging need to control prostitution arises. The abolition of prostitution is a mammoth task since it is an ancient practice and has existed for too long. Although it was described as illegal, it is still continuing. This may be due to a lack of law enforcement or the failure to control the activity. The legalization of prostitution may be introduced to counter this problem as abolition seems a daydream.

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The sex trafficking issue has become the hour’s need and government agencies are required to tackle this issue as soon as possible. It seems more practical and feasible to legalize prostitution than trying to abolish prostitution as the government has been trying it for decades and hardly touched that note. The livelihoods of prostitutes are saddening, and it is in the hands of society to evolve which the governmental institutions could catalyse. The male prostitution industry is still unrecognized by statute and needs due care. On that note, laws are to be changed to include men as well as women. Criminalization of prostitution, such as other things surrounding sex work, is not the real solution. Sex trade will be around to stay, and by identifying it as a valid form of work, all parties involved can get promised advantages. Thus, either India should legalize prostitution which is the most reasonable step that can be taken or make such dissuasive laws as to curb the prostitution problem. Laws should not only remove sex workers, but also change the mentality of people interested in paid sex by punishing them in such a way that people of the same mindset would then dare indulge in similar activities.

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