Sex workers are commonly called Prostitutes. Prostitution is an occupation of engaging in sexual activity with someone else for financial benefits. Prostitutes can be male or female, however, Indian Law does not recognize male sex workers. This practice has been continued from ancient times but is looked down upon by society. Prostitutes are detested and are often subjected to harassment and torture because of their profession. Researches state that most women who enter this profession are coerced into doing it. They enter into this business out of necessity and financial troubles. As per the 2008 survey of the Ministry of Women and Child Development, there are an estimated 3 million female sex workers across India.
Prostitution has a legal status in India subjected to various limitations. Activities including pimping, child prostitution, soliciting services at public places, running a brothel, pandering are prohibited. The Prevention of Immoral Traffic Act (PITA), 1956, the Indian Penal Code (IPC), 1860, the Constitution of India, 1950, the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act (JJA), 2015 and other state legislations have been enacted to deal with the issue of prostitution and trafficking. PITA, formerly known as the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956 was adopted and implemented after India signed the United Nations Declaration for the suppression of women in trafficking in New York on 9th May 1950. The punishment for brothel-keeping is imprisonment for one up to three years along with a fine of up to two thousand rupees. Child prostitution attracts rigorous imprisonment for seven years but may extend to life. Section 370A, IPC punishes the offender for the exploitation of a trafficked minor with imprisonment of five to seven years.
However, the legal framework of India awards various rights to the Prostitutes who work willingly in the profession. Being a citizen of India, they are entitled to all the fundamental rights promised to them by the Constitution. There have been several judgments by the Hon’ble Courts in favour and for the good of these workers.
In the case, Budhadev Karmaskar v State of West Bengal, the Apex Court gave a landmark judgment which proved to be a reformist step in recognizing the rights of the sex workers in India. In this case, a female sex worker was brutally beaten and murdered when she refused to have sexual intercourse with the appellant. The appellant who was convicted for the crime further appealed to the higher authority but his appeal was rejected. The court opinioned that the sex workers who do not want to continue this profession by choice should be rehabilitated and given proper technical and vocational training as a means to earn their livelihood instead of selling their bodies. The verdict put forward a wider interpretation of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution and guaranteed the Right to Dignity of Life to them.
In the case, Gaurav Jain v. Union of India, advocate Gaurav Jain filed a writ petition asking for the establishment of separate educational and vocational institutions for the offsprings of the fallen women after he read the heart-steering article A Red light trap: Society gives no chance to prostitutes’ offspring” in `India Today’. The court observed that “segregating children of prostitutes by locating separate schools and providing separate hostels” would not prove to be beneficial for the children and the society at large, instead they “should be segregated from their mothers and be allowed to mingle with others and become a part of the society.” It was realized that these children should be kept away from red-flag areas and should be helped to get into respectable professions. They should be given equal opportunity and should be treated with dignity. As per Articles 14, 15, 15(3), 16(1), 21, 24, 38, 39(f), 45, 46, etc. these children have the right to life, liberty, equality, opportunity, and so on.
The Supreme Court of India overruled the verdict of the High Court of India in the case of “Pankaj Chaudhary & Others vs State (Govt. Of Nct Of Delhi)” and restored the verdict of 10 years imprisonment awarded to four persons by a lower court. In the present case, a sex worker was gang-raped because she refused to make sexual relations with the four men present. The court stated that the High Court made an error in the judgment and emphasized that even if the woman was habituated to sexual intercourse, she still has the right to bodily integrity and say “NO”.
In the case, Manoj Shaw and Manoj Kumar Shaw v. State of West Bengal, it was observed that sex workers should be treated as victims and not accused. When prostitution was busted, the prostitutes were put behind the bar whereas the owner of the bar was merely sent a notice. The prostitutes who were minors and forced to work were threatened, intimidated and treated as accused. However, as per the order of the court, the victims were granted interim compensation under the state victim compensation scheme and the anticipatory bail of the petitioner was rejected.
Prostitutes have always been treated as an outcast from society and their profession is looked upon as derogatory. They usually get involved in the flesh market to bear their expenses and support their families. They are usually low-income strata of the society who don’t find another way to make money. Once they enter into this business, it is almost impossible to get out of this, live a dignified life or get accepted to do any other job. Their offsprings also have to go through a lot of discrimination and humiliation because of the same.
The circumstances in which sexually exploited children have to live are not morally, socially and psychologically appropriate. Still, they are compelled to live like that because of financial reasons. Their human rights are violated. At the age of attaining education and moral values, they are coerced to lowly jobs putting an end to having a better future. They have to face a lot of troubles including inhuman behaviours. Trafficking, forcing and indulging a child into sexual services is the most brutal abuse against an innocent on this planet.
Author(s) Name: Khushi Yadav (FIMT, GGSIPU)
 ‘Even Sex-Workers Have Right To Refuse: Supreme Court’ (The Economic Times, 2021) <https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/even-sex-workers-have-right-to-refuse-supreme-court/articleshow/66466109.cms?from=mdr> accessed 5 December 2021.