Prostitution: Making it legit!


Prostitution is defined as the act of providing sexual services to a person in exchange for money, goods or other services. Worldwide, this practice produces over $100 billion in revenue annually. Prostitution practices vary greatly from country to country. It is legal in some countries; however, prostitution is considered so serious a crime that it is punishable by death in other countries. Some believe legalizing and decriminalizing prostitution would bring many benefits, while others have identified many negatives of legalizing prostitution.

What are the first few things that come to your mind when you think of prostitution?

Illegal sex, HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, human trafficking, unethical and immoral for the society are no doubt very valid impressions about prostitution. It is natural to assume that legalizing prostitution in India would lead to increase in transmission of STIs, aggravate the menace of human trafficking, loss of  moral fibre and lead to the downfall of our culture.

It is a possibility that with legalization of prostitution may increase vulnerability toward HIV infection and other STIs as often sex workers are pressurised by their clients to not take preventive steps like using condoms to prevent the spread of such infections. There are people who exist in the trade who might’ve already been infected without being educated about. Then there is not just HIV, there is gonorrhoea, syphilis, herpes simplex and human papillomavirus!

To get more people and better business, human trafficking which is already really high would become a more serious issue. Brothel owners or pimps may get underage girls raped and force them into this profession. Even with legalization, how can one truly know whether someone has taken up prostitution at her own will or was dragged into it? Admittedly, there is a demand from sex workers themselves to legalize sex work because then they can demand legal representation and participation in policy-framing social exercises. It is true that currently sex workers live in the shadows of society under the cover of fear and coercion. Legal recognition of their profession, enforced or chosen, can possibly help to bring their pathos to light. The question to ask is whether that alone would be a driving force to flush out trade owners who traffic people into this profession. Also, is it likely to help arrive at policies and solutions that can address the transmission of HIV and other STIs from a public health perspective?

On the contrary, there are countries that have had prostitution legal for years now. Take the case of Netherlands as an example. Prostitution has been legal in the Netherlands even since 1830, though till 1980 the law forbade profiting from prostitution. In 1988, prostitution has been recognized as a legal profession, subjecting it to the municipal regulations about the location, organization and the practice of business. The authorities also regulate prostitution, aiming at protecting minors, eliminating forced prostitution and combating the new phenomena of human trafficking. Any sex business ought to obtain from the municipality a license, certifying that it has fulfilled the legal requirements to operate. The Municipal laws have a stringent health regime in place and sex professionals are bound to obtain certificates of good health in order to continue their practice.

If better health conditions and policies are made keeping in mind this section of the society with regular health check-ups  it will help a great deal to keep them healthy.

Talking about how this profession is considered immoral and prostitutes are looked down upon, one of the 18 types of soils that are collected to bathe the deity during the Durga Puja celebrations in Bengal is soil from a prostitute’s door. This is a kind of thanksgiving to the prostitute who ‘consumes the poison of society’ and at whose doorstep a  man loses his virtues. All they need is acceptance and respect for doing what they want.

Legalization won’t just help prostitutes get acceptance in the society but it can also help protect minors involved in such rackets. Child prostitution exists in all the countries, irrespective of their level of economic development; the problem is observed in its severity in Asia and South America. By legalising prostitution and taking strict measures to regulate it, we can ensure removal of minors from the profession, thus protecting their rights and confirming their safety.

Prostitution is legal with some restrictions in Canada, almost all of Europe including England, France, Wales and Denmark, most of South America including most of Mexico (often in special zones), Brazil, Israel (Tel Aviv is known as the brothel capital of the world), Australia, and many other countries. It is either illegal or an underground criminal activity in most of Asia. Even Iran has “temporary wives”, which can be for only a few hours. In 2003, New Zealand passed one of the most comprehensive decriminalization acts, which even made street hookers legal.

Even with consent, prostitution is not a ‘victimless’ crime, when you take a bird’s –eye view of society. However, sensitization of clients and sex workers to the issue of consent, use of sex workers as a channel for propagating knowledge of sexual health, policy framework for preventing the spread of STIs amongst people at high-risk  and removal of minors from the business can be the possible benefits of legalizing prostitution. Following the recognition of transgender people as a ‘third’ legal gender, this can be a progressive step that India can take to ensure public health and some measure of protection of a section of people that is currently completely exploited.

 – Mannat Anand


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