Legalizing Prostitution: Should We Or Should We Not?

Posted on February 20, 2011 in Society

By Srishti Chauhan:

Prostitution is considered to be the oldest profession in the history of the world. Since time immemorial we have heard of prostitution- mentioned in scriptures, depicted in engravings, crafted on canvas and what not.

With the evolution of society and economy as we see it today, many countries find it obligatory to impose a ban on this practice. Seeing it as a source of degradation to the society and a harbinger of amoral practices, prostitution is often condemned and looked down upon.

Nonetheless, there is one question that we must ask ourselves regarding prostitution. Turning a blind eye towards prostitution and hoping that it will vanish with time is like saying “If I don’t see it, it doesn’t exist.” A significant question worth putting forward is whether legalization of prostitution would be for the better of the society or not?

In India, the very first area of concern that springs up is the magnitude of Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) that shall be spread if this practice is legalized. However, pause and think. Is prostitution an unfamiliar practice? Does it not happen all over the country with the knowledge of the police, the media as well as the public administration system? From depiction of the grand ‘kothas’ in Devdas to the shabby one roomed brothels in Dev D, India has it all. There are many countries in the world where prostitution is not unlawful. The governments in these countries have put forward the argument that by legalizing this practice they would at least be able to regulate it. Prostitutes can be registered with the government and regular health check-ups made binding.

However, there are major draw-backs to this proposal. What happens to a sex-worker once he or she acquires an STD? They lose the right to practice their profession- but do they have an alternative means of living as an option? Most sex-workers lack education, but even if they do have some aptitude, would they be accepted as a part of the society without facing discrimination?

In India, prostitution is not illegal. It is the practices like soliciting sex in a public place, kerb crawling (driving around areas for street prostitution), keeping a brothel, pimping and pandering (operating a prostitution business) associated with prostitution that is criminal.

However, without these activities, carrying on prostitution is difficult, if not impossible. The constitution makers have opted for a middle path in this case — which does not serve the purpose. It leaves the prostitutes in a neither-here-nor-there situation.

On the other hand, absolute legalization of prostitution would work well to combat female trafficking. Females who are trafficked from Nepal and Bangladesh for this purpose would have to be registered and this way the police would be able to verify that they are not minors who are forced into this profession. This practice would be somewhat similar to that of not employing children below the age of 14 years.

Also, as a part of the underground economy, prostitution is one massive industry- the income earned from which, if included in the GDP will make it shoot upwards by a significant amount. This not only gives us a more actual status of the economy but also helps curbing sources of black money.

Another pro of legalizing prostitution is that it will help regulate any impostors who run the business in the façade of other things. Only last year did the media unveil a scam involving a priest in a temple who worked as a pimp. Legalizing prostitution may not help eradicate these practices but may surely help curtail them to a large extent.

Legalization of prostitution, however, has a marked social cost. What earlier used to happen behind closed doors and in secrecy would now be out in the open. Dilapidation of a morally high-ranking society would be but obvious. There are not many people who would appreciate a brothel anywhere near their homes or work areas.

All said and done, one thing that we have to address is how to integrate prostitutes as a part of the society or how to alienate them completely. A middle path has worked in all the wrong ways. Either complete elimination of the system by means of proper policing and laws should be executed; or the incorporation of this highly unorganized sector into the structured part of the economy should be done.

The question is big and any decision regarding the same shall be a milestone in the history Indian economy. Legalization has its pros as well as its cons. Weighing them right, keeping in mind the future expected changes in the economy, is vital as well as crucial.

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