The Big Debate: Should Prostitution Be Legalized In India?

Posted on December 30, 2009 in Society, YKA Editorials

Parul Sabherwal:

“I have not been treated well throughout my life. I cannot live with others of my age, I cannot breathe the same air. I chose my profession, and I am paying for it.”a self proclaimed prostitute

Prostitution has been an age old trend in the Indian society and no one today can even find out the approximate date from when this profession came into existence. It is claimed that it has been a part of our society even before Christ came into existence. Though surprising, it is still true that prostitution has still not got any specific legal recognition in our country. One can say that it is neither illegal nor legal in India.

Legal status:

The current law that deals with prostitution in India allows the prostitute to thrive, but hide it completely from the public. The first law that came into existence was Immoral Traffic (Suppression) Act (SITA), 1956. But later on it was amended and today a new Act has come called The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act or PITA in the year 1986. Basically this law forbids a sex worker to carry on her activities within 200 yards of a public place so that nothing is done in a place where the normal public lives. But at the same time these sex workers do not really get any kind of rights from the legal system like other workers, under the labour laws.

In a way these laws were intended at projecting sex work in a very wrong way in the society and gradually criminalizing it so that it can be eradicated. According to this law, prostitutes can practice their trade privately but cannot legally solicit customers in public. Organized prostitution (brothels, prostitution rings, pimping etc) is illegal. As long as it is done individually and voluntarily, a woman (male prostitution is not recognized in the Indian constitution) can use her body’s attributes in exchange for material benefit. So it is clearly visible from all these aspects that neither is prostitution completely illegal in our country nor can it be called a legally defined profession.

Though not completely legal but this practice exists in out society since the very early days of our civilization and there are various reasons due to which the existence of this cannot be avoided. The major causes of turning a girl into a prostitute are totally situational. No girl comes with a tag of a prostitute from her mother’s womb. The main causes behind this are:

· Ill treatment by parents,
· Bad company,
· belonging to a family of prostitutes,
· Social customs,
· Lack of sex education,
· rape victim,
· Early marriage and desertion,
· Lack of recreational facilities, ignorance, and acceptance of prostitution,
· Economic causes include poverty and economic distress,
· Psychological causes include desire for physical pleasure, greed, and dejection.

Now the question arises that should it come in the league of other professions in India? Should there be a situation in which a girl doesn’t feel bad to call herself a sex worker? The answer to this question is Yes as well as No. The people who answer it as No generally talk about the Indian culture and say that the acceptance of a so called unethical practice is not at all possible in our country. Be it a student or an elderly, everybody has a different opinion on this issue. We asked a few individuals about their views.

“Well it seems to give better and more humane conditions for prostitutes. By legalization they can ask for help from the system or else they are shunned,” says Deepthi Nair, a doctor.

Astik Sinha, a student of Post Graduation from Jamia Milia Islamia University, “It’s called the oldest known profession in the world, one that has existed before Christ himself. Knowing that you can’t stop it, knowing that everyday there are adverts in the papers, sex workers living in specific areas catering everyday to the needs of others right under the nose of the babudom who simply look the other way…”

V.A. Pratyusha, an student goes the other way, “Prostitution should not be legalized at any cost whatsoever. Not only is this against the Indian culture, but this will also further promote this heinous act more and more. People who now refrain from it will do it openly. And frankly what good is prostitution doing to the society to think of legalizing it? Also, I don’t think legalization will prevent AIDS as the usage of contraceptives and all has nothing to do with whether the practice is legal or not. People who do not use them now will NOT use them even after legalization, and hence it will, in fact promote AIDS even more.”

Differs Sumit Chaturvedi, a graduate from Delhi University, “I think prostitution should not only be legalized but also should be provided with educational guarantee for the sex workers as well as their families. This would not only create awareness but also provide multi-fold opportunities to them.”

Anshul Tewari, Founder and Editor in Chief at Youth Ki Awaaz feels, “prostitution must be legalized. Our society has still not grown over and above its obsolete mindset. A prostitute is still treated as a destructed of the Indian traditions, and prostitution considered as a social evil, while this is not the case. Prostitutes have the exact same rights as you or me. If I have the right to speech and expression, if I have the right to live freely, so does a prostitute. Prostitution must be legalized. People feel that this will promote prostitution and help in growth of the profession. This is absolutely a myth. Legalization will give a voice to the prostitutes, they will get proper representation, and they will be able to fight against injustice with as much will as a person with a regular job would. This will also make laws sturdier to ensure that illegal prostitution is banned. I believe that there must be immediate legalization of prostitution.

As you all can see that the opinion of different people on this issue is very different. So may be this is the reason why our legal system has still not taken a stringent step in this regard and the debate about the issue is growing day by day. In my opinion as well, there are many pros and cons of legalizing prostitution in India. But as it is said, every coin has a flip and a flop side but in this case the merits definitely outnumber the demerits.

Once it becomes legal then the harassment of women or the sex workers by the police would reduce tremendously, these prostitutes will exist in certain government defined areas and will have proper licenses to work. This would also bring the names of these workers in the government records and they will have to pay a good amount of their income as tax. At the same time unhealthy practices such as pimping could also be avoided as they would be officially termed as illegal.

Proper health checks of the women into this profession would help in reduction of Sexually Transmitted Diseases like AIDS etc., also, the prostitutes will be able to strongly assert their customers to use proper contraceptives, or they could take action against them. This way they will be empowered, shunning the callous behaviour of the government and the bureaucracy.

The only question that remains unanswered is that when will our society attain a level of thinking where they will be ready to accept a situation which cannot be avoided but can be regulated?

Will you accept prostitution? Drop in a comment below or mail us at, you can also tweet us at @YouthKiAwaaz.


The writer is the Assistant Editor at Youth Ki Awaaz


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