Syllabus: General Studies Paper 2 (Governance)
The pandemic has hit millions of people and caused a great deal of suffering across communities. But there is one community that is especially hard hit and that is sex workers. Owing to the non-recognition of sex work as “legitimate work”, sex workers have mostly been kept at arm’s length from the government’s relief programmes. COVID-19 has thus provided more reason to consider a long-pending demand of sex workers in India — decriminalisation of sex work and a guaranteed set of labour rights.
An Archaic, Regressive View:
- The legislation governing sex work in indiais the immoral traffic (prevention) act.
- The suppression of immoral traffic in women and children act was enacted in 1956.
- subsequent amendments were made to the law and the name of the act was changed to immoral traffic (prevention) act.
- The legislation penalises actssuch as:
- Keeping a brothel,
- Soliciting in a public place,
- Living off the earnings of sex workand
- Living with or habitually being in the company of a sex worker
Issues with the Immoral Traffic act:
- This act represents the archaic and regressive view that sex work is morally wrongand that the people involved in it, especially women, never consent to it voluntarily.
- After all, in popular depiction, entry into sex work is involuntary, forced, and through deception.
- As a consequence, it is believed that these women need to be “rescued” and “rehabilitated”, sometimes even without their consent.
- While this is a valid argument for minor girls, for many consenting adult sex workers, it has been a problem.
Consequences of the archaic belief system on sex workers:
- This is what has led to the classification of ‘‘respectable women” and “non-respectable women”.
- This view is based on the belief that sex work is “easy” work and no one will or should choose to practise it.
- It thus perpetuates the prejudice that women who do practise sex work are morally devious.
- The act has not only criminalised sex workbut also further stigmatised and pushed it underground thus leaving sex workers more prone to violence, discrimination and harassment.
- The act denies an individual their right over their bodies.
- Moreover, it imposes the will of the state over adultsarticulating their life choices.
- It gives no agency to the sex workers to fight against the traffickers and in fact, has made them more susceptible to be harassed by the state officials.
- The act fails to recognise that many women willingly enterinto agreements with traffickers, sometimes just to seek a better life as chosen by them.
- Evidence shows that many women choose to remain in sex workdespite opportunities to leave after ‘rehabilitation’ by the government or non-governmental organisations.
- The justice verma commissionhad also acknowledged that there is a distinction between women who are trafficked for commercial sexual exploitation and adult, consenting women who are in sex work of their own volition.
- We must recognise sex workas work and stop ourselves from assigning morality to their work.
- Adult men, women and transgender persons in sex work have the right to earn by providing sexual services; live with dignity; and remain free from violence, exploitation, stigma and discrimination.
- It is time we rethink sex work from a labour perspective, where we recognise their work and guarantee them basic labour rights.