Author : Samik Santra
[Bio : He is doing his MBA . He is also a writer.]
Prostitution has positioned differently over the time and across the cultures, the predominant view that it constitutes a social problem. Prostitution might be illegal in India, but the business of life goes on. Calling it illegal is a superfluous formality and denouncing it as an immoral blotch on society. Recognizing it as a profession will at least reduce the real illegalities that come with it, like child prostitution, drug abuse, and crime. Prostitution has been become a tangled issue for the feminist, sociologist and economist of India and the rest of the world. Feminists say it a nasty violence on the part of the women; sociologists say it a curse on the part of the society; economists say it a crime based on the market but we, the management-crates consider it as one of the oldest and enduring business of the world.
Prostitution can be defined as the exchange of sexual favours between the partners within a relationship for money, is just one of the various ways of expressing and carrying out human sexuality.
In India, according to an official estimate there are around 3.1 million prostitutes operating in 400 ‘red-light areas’. The biggest organized sex trade is in the big metros of Mumbai and Kolkata and in the states of West Bengal and Karnataka. The conditions in which prostitution is carried on is shocking .The sex workers are forced to service 10-15 clients per day who may coerce them to indulge in unnatural or perverse sexual acts and may even subject them to sexual violence. The brothels are overcrowded, and the inmates survive in inhuman conditions .In addition they are deprived of basic health care facilities, although they fall in a high risk category as far as sexually transmitted diseases (STD) are concerned.
Notorious red light districts of India include GB Road in Delhi, Sonagachi in Kolkata, Kamathipura in Mumbai, Budhwar Peth in Pune and Reshampura in Gwalior. Most of the girls are brought from Nepal and Bangladesh. 160,000 Nepalese women are held in India’s brothels. Approximately 50,000, or half of the women in prostitution in Bombay, are trafficked from Nepal. (Robert I. Freidman, “India’s Shame: Sexual Slavery and Political Corruption Are Leading to An AIDS Catastrophe,” The Nation, 8 April 1996). In Bombay, one brothel has only Nepalese women who are demanded by the clients because of their golden skin and docile personalities. About 5,000-7,000 Nepalese girls are trafficked to India every day. About 45,000 Nepalese girls are in the brothels of Bombay and 40,000 in Calcutta. (Women’s groups in Nepal, ‘Trafficking in Women and Children: The Cases of Bangladesh, pp.8 & 9, UBINIG, 1995).
Calcutta is one of the important transit points for the traffickers for Bombay and to Pakistan. 99% women are trafficked out of Bangladesh through land routes along the border areas of Bangladesh and India, such as Jessore, Satkhira, and Rajshahi. (Trafficking in Women and Children: The Cases of Bangladesh, pp.18 & 19, UBINIG, 1995) Of the 5,000-7,000 Nepalese girls trafficked into India yearly, the average age over the past decade has fallen from 14-16 years old to 10-14 years old. (CATW – Asia Pacific, Trafficking in Women and Prostitution in the Asia Pacific).
The brothels of India hold between 100,000 and 160,000 Nepalese women and girls, 35 percent were taken on the false pretext of marriage or a good job. (Radhika Coomaraswamy, UN Special Report on Violence Against Women, Gustavo Capdevila, IPS, 2 April 1997).Young girls are trafficked from Nepal to brothels in Mumbai and Kolkata at an average age of twelve. They are trapped into the vicious cycle of prostitution, debt and slavery. By the time they are in their mid-twenties, they are at the dead end. Every hour, four women and girls in India enter prostitution, three of them against their will.
The main causes to enter into the dark industry are as follows:
i) Economic causes include economic distress and poverty.
ii) Psychological causes include desire for physical pleasure, greed, and dejection.
iii) Early marriage and desertion.
iv) Prior incest and rape.
v) Bad Company,
vi) Family prostitution.
vii) Lack of recreational facilities, ignorance, and acceptance of prostitution.
viii) Ill-treatment by parents.
The benefit of legalizing prostitution in India will be that at least we will have a track record of Sex workers. Legalizing prostitution will see these women, who live life on the edge everywhere, gaining access to medical facilities, which can control the spread of AIDS. There is a very strong need to treat the sex industry as any other industry and empower it with legal safeguards. The practical implications of the profession being legal would bring nothing but benefits for sex workers and society as a whole. Keeping prostitution illegal also contributes to crime because many criminals view prostitutes and their customers as attractive targets for robbery, fraud, rape, or other criminal acts. The criminals realize that such people are unlikely to report the crimes to police, because the victims would have to admit they were involved in the illegal activity of prostitution when the attacks took place, now if it is legal then they will easily go and report this to police.
Legalization of prostitution and the sex industry will stop sex trafficking. Legalization of prostitution will control the sex industry. Legalization of prostitution will decrease clandestine, hidden, illegal and street prostitution. Legalization of prostitution will protect the women in prostitution as they will have rights. Recognizing prostitution as an economic activity, thus enabling women in India to obtain working permits as “sex workers”. No governments, no matter how hard they have tried, have been successful in abolishing prostitution. Prostitution is a reality and the chances of eliminating it are practically nil. By legalizing prostitution, we also legalize the fight against Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) and the AIDS epidemic. Just like laws have managed to do with untouchability, legalizing prostitution will give dignity to sex-workers and save them from living as second grade citizens. A separate hub can be created for it and health of sex workers can be monitored. Legalization will deter police from extorting money from the helpless sex workers who are forced to give a part of their income to the policemen to let them live in peace. Legalization of the profession will at least give a human face to the profession, where prostitutes are, otherwise, are treated as outcastes.
Norms should be laid out for registration in terms of space, hygiene and medical facilities available. There should be periodical medical check-ups, and it must be made mandatory for every individual in the profession to possess a proper health certificate. Brothels should also be taxed like any other business house, and a certain amount should be earmarked by the government for providing medical facilities to sex workers. Their families and especially their children should be taken care of. A rehabilitation programme for sex workers wanting to opt out should also be worked out. Sex workers should be made to work only in the allotted areas or zones. Brothels must be situated away from residential areas and educational institutions.
In India women are forced into prostitution due to poverty and illiteracy. So women in this profession become carriers of AIDS and other deadly diseases. To combat with this situation, women’s organizations can be brought in to work at the grass-root level and to form a link between the sex workers and the government.
As it is said, “Every coin has two sides.” Legalization too has some shortcomings: Legalizing prostitution would benefit the facilitators and the pimps, not their victims. In India, where women are coerced into the trade and kept in it almost like bonded labour, such a move will not benefit them. Commercial sexual exploitation is a form of slavery and slavery cannot be legalized. India should not compare itself with other Western countries, where prostitution enjoys legal status because our societal customs are most unlike those in the West. Since abortion is illegal in India, there is no question of legalizing prostitution. So giving this business a legal status only means society is giving approval to the flesh trade. Some critics say, prostitution wrecks personality and affects marriage relationships. Prostitution affects family life, communicates diseases and thus brings social disorganization.
Poverty is the single biggest factor in turning women towards prostitution. This is so because there is an economic value attached to female sexuality. In our opinion, the issue of prostitution needs urgent attention and there can be no further delay in this regard. Sex workers are humans and they deserve an equal status in the society. Trafficking in human beings, especially children, is a form of modern day slavery and requires a holistic, multi-sectoral approach to address the complex dimension of the problem. It is a problem that violates the rights and dignity of the victims and therefore requires essentially a child rights perspective while working on its eradication. Laws should not be such as to just remove the prostitutes but also to change the mentality of people who are interested in paid sex by punishing them in such a manner that people of same mentality will dare to indulge themselves in similar activities.